CHICAGO – About 40 times a summer, Wrigleyville resident Rick Boyum enjoys a five-minute walk from his home on North Wilton Avenue.
Boyum, 65, has been a Cubs season ticket holder for the past seven years, sharing seats in the last row of the grandstand along the right field line with his friend, and he’s learned to embrace some of the chaos that comes along with living only two blocks from Wrigley Field since he first moved to the neighborhood in 1983. But he’s thankful a plan to renovate the ballpark, which was announced Monday, is finally in place.
“You develop this inner rhythm and you know your street you can go on, so it really is not that much of a problem,” Boyum said.
Standing at a podium on the concourse in Wrigley near club box aisles 15-17, a fitting backdrop to announce the Cubs’ $500 million proposal to renovate the stadium, chairman Tom Ricketts proclaimed Monday if they officially get the go ahead, a World Series title will follow.
“If this plan is approved, we will win the World Series for our fans and our city,” Ricketts said. “We need this project to bring our fans a winner.”
“I always believed, and I still believe, that it’s in everyone’s best interest to do what’s right for Wrigley Field not only economically but because it’s a special place. It has a special role in baseball history.”
The extensive plan, which still must get through public hearings and be approved by the city before construction can begin, includes an increase from 30 to 40 night games and the ability to schedule up to six 3:05 p.m. starts on Fridays. The Cubs’ schedule already features TBD game times for some Friday games in June through August in case the proposal is quickly approved, thus putting the 3:05 p.m. starts into effect.
But the inclusion of a video board in left field up to 6,000 square feet is drawing the most attention because of the potential view obstruction it could create for Wrigleyville rooftop owners, who still have 11 years remaining on their contract with the Cubs. The video board is projected to be nearly three times the size of the historic center field scoreboard, about 2,000 square feet. Boyum said he doesn’t believe Wrigley needs a video board but understands that in this era, it’s something people want.
Although the concept of a video board was first mentioned at the Cubs Convention in January, the Cubs supposedly were only surveying fan and community interest in the addition. The Cubs needed only three months to decide it’s a necessity.
“The video boards have grown over the past few years,” Ricketts said. “People are expecting to be able to see replays and stats and other things that video boards provide. We thought that was the right number for us, and we thought we have the right space to do that.”
The renovations will take place over five sequential offseasons based on the Red Sox’s model for when they fixed Fenway Park. Those changes also involve building a hotel, a potential complication for Engine 78. The firehouse, located at the corner of Seminary and Waveland Avenue behind the left field bleachers, has been part of the community since 1915.
One firefighter, who asked his name not be used because he did not have authority to speak to the news media, said the addition of a high-rise building will require more manpower from the department if it received a call. Engine 78 employs 30 responders with seven – five on the engine and two with the ambulance – working each day.
“Currently, we have just enough manpower,” the veteran firefighter said. “It would be up to Mayor [Rahm] Emanuel to add more manpower to the department [if it was needed].”
The city, as indicated in the Cubs’ plans, is vacating sidewalk and one street lane on Waveland Avenue (from Sheffield Avenue to Clark Street). That’s worrisome for the fire department. Buses routinely line up on the two-way street after games, and eliminating one lane would force the fire truck or ambulance to work through congestion or potentially have to take longer routes.
The firefighter added that the same issue would apply for any street festivals that would close down Sheffield Avenue. When Paul McCartney played at Wrigley in 2011, the firefighter said thousands of people congregated on Waveland Avenue, making it difficult to respond to calls.
But one of the biggest hurdles facing the Cubs and their plan to renovate Wrigley is the opposition from rooftop owners. Rooftop and Murphy’s Bleachers owner Beth Murphy told the Northwest Herald that the Cubs need to provide more details on their plan, such as what they plan to do with traffic around Wrigley if they take away a lane on Waveland Avenue.
Murphy, who is the spokeswoman for the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association, wouldn’t speculate as to what would happen if the Cubs offered to buy out the remaining years on their agreement. But a court date could be looming.
“Obviously any business is for sale at the right price, but that would be difficult to answer,” Murphy said. “We’re not even close to being at that level of negotiation. It’s important for us to get this process started.”