With his Chicago Cubs set to open their 98th season at Wrigley Field, team chairman Tom Ricketts said the iconic park was under-invested in by previous owners and needs renovations to get it “up to speed.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel confirmed this week that city officials are in the “final stages” of talks on a renovation plan for Wrigley that could include public funding. Ricketts declined Thursday to put a timetable on the renovation, but said he is confident it will get done.
“I don’t know (when it will get done). What I do know is that all the elected officials, we’re talking,” Ricketts said on “The Waddle & Silvy Show” on ESPN 1000. “Everybody is kind of going in the same direction. It’s a lot of work to come up with something that’s a great win-win for the city and the team so we’re working with not only the city but the state and the county. Everybody has got to come up with something … it’s got to work for everybody or it doesn’t work. We’ve got a great conversation going and hopefully we’ll have something pretty soon that everybody agrees is the right answer.”
Ricketts said years of under-investing in the park have caught up to it.
“The big picture is the park has got to stand for 50 more years. It’s been really under-invested in over time,” Ricketts said. “The Tribune was a good owner, but it was an ROI (return on investment) kind of decision as to whether they put money in the park. I think before the Tribune baseball teams didn’t make a lot of money. It was hard to put a lot of money into an old park even in the ‘70s. It’s been under-invested. We need to get it up to speed. We need a lot of money to re-do electrical, sewage, all the stuff that is 100 years old. We’ve got a lot on our plate, but we’re going to get it done.”
The Cubs will introduce several new features at Wrigley Field this season, including the Budweiser Patio in right field and an LED board underneath. Ricketts said he wants to continue to try to improve the fan experience.
“When fans get to their chair at Wrigley they’re all right,” Ricketts said. “They go up the ramp, they see the field, they get to their chair, they’re OK. It’s when they get up to go back down and have to stand in line for a washroom or stand in line for food or there’s limited food options because we don’t have any space. That’s a big priority. We’ve got to improve the gameday experience not just the service on food and beverage but things for families and more stuff in the park for people to do.
“The second thing is we have to make it better for the players. There’s no batting tunnel. They literally put a batting tee in the clubhouse and drop a net so you don’t break the television when you’re getting loose to pinch hit. I mean, this is the 21st century. We should be beyond that.”
If the renovation project moves forward, Ricketts said the work likely will be done incrementally during several offseasons, mirroring the model the Boston Red Sox followed during Fenway Park’s makeover. Ricketts acknowledged the plan takes longer and is more costly, but at this point he is not interested in re-locating the Cubs to another park for a season during construction.
Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts joined "Carmen, Jurko & Harry" to preview the season, Starlin Castro, the status of Wrigley Field renovations and more.