Wrigley Field bleachers might not be ready by Opening Day

Wrigley Field is undergoing a big renovation, and some parts might not be finished by Opening Day. AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato

The Chicago Cubs are opening the 2015 season at 7:05 p.m. on ESPN2. But one of the most iconic parts of Wrigley Field might not be ready for its closeup.

Speaking to a group of Cubs bloggers Tuesday, Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney said there have already been delays in the gutting and total reconstruction of the left and right field bleachers, and that those sections might not be fully open for the start of the season, according to several writers who attended the forum and wrote about the question-and-answer session.

“I think there is a chance that some of the bleachers are not open for opening night,” Kenney told the group, according to a transcript posted by Wrigley Renovations, a blog dedicated to the estimated $600 million Wrigley Field renovation project.

Cubs vice president of communications Julian Green said the delays are “more the nature of the business than it is a concern,” citing weather and infrastructure concerns, among other obstacles. The Cubs have a contingency plan in place for season ticket holders in that area and don't anticipate a long hold-up in finishing those sections.

“As we progress in this project, there are things we know about and things we don’t know about and we’ll have to adapt,” Green said in a phone call with ESPN Chicago.

Weather has been an obvious concern, one the team and its construction firm has obviously planned for, including recent high winds that prevented use of heavy machinery for a day.

When the city began digging behind the bleachers on Sheffield Ave., after the season ended, it decided a water main needs replacing as part of infrastructure improvements. That has delayed work on rebuilding the right-field bleacher area, and is an ongoing issue.

Here is the main chunk of Kenney’s answer to a question about the renovation timeline, as transcribed by the Wrigley Renovations blog.

“The bleachers ... one of the things that was necessary was a new water main. Because we ended up paying for the sidewalk and the parking lane, we needed to have the water line under the ground upgraded and capped. That was supposed to be completed October 6, and what the city ran into was, a much more antiquated pipe system, and that still isn't done. So that’s one issue we didn't anticipate not being done, and they started that before our season was finished. So that’s a wrinkle. Our cold and wind we anticipated, but I think there is a chance that some of the bleachers are not open for opening night. We have a contingency plan to make sure we take care of our fans. One of the things we know about April is the average attendance is in the 30K range. So, are 5,000 fans going to be accommodated in the ballpark? We don’t want that to be the case and we are working hard to make up that time, but, we have to have a backup plan, in the event some of the bleachers aren't available opening night. I think the good news is that this is a project we have well-engineered. So the engineering around this isn't hard, the water line issue is an issue, but we are building this for the next 50 years. We certainly don’t want to miss the first homestand, but if you do, you move on and certainly the bleachers would be open right after that.”

Kenney noted this would currently affect only the bleacher season ticket holders, as single-game seats don’t go on sale until March. By then, they should have an answer on the status of the reconstruction.

The bleacher renovation is the main part of the first phase of the multi-year renovation of Wrigley Field that should cost north of $375 million. When you tack on the boutique hotel in the McDonald’s lot, the new office building, and other additions, the renovation is estimated at $600 million.

In perhaps the biggest change to Wrigley Field, the Cubs are adding two large videoboards to the bleachers, one in left field and a smaller one in right field, which was a newer addition to the plan, which took many twists and turns before being approved by the city. Both videoboards were sanctioned by the city’s landmark commission and they will be ready for the home opener, according to the team.

The Cubs have already selected a firm to build the videoboard and hired a person to run the operation from a booth next to the pressbox.

As for the additional approved outfield signage (that also required landmark approval), Green said they have already sold “several signs.” Those too will be up by the opener, he said.

The Cubs still don’t have a TV partner for approximately 70 games. Long-time rightsholder WGN, whose deal was ended by the Cubs this past season, is still on the table as home for a new short-term contract until the Comcast Sportsnet Chicago deal is up after the 2019 season.

“We hope to have deal in place by the end of the year,” Green said. “Everything is on the table. Talks with WGN are ongoing, that’s still a possibility.”