Cubs Convention LIVE: Restoring Wrigley Field

“Apparently, a lot of people care about Wrigley Field,” opens Crane Kenney to a room full of laughs.

Got your seatbelt on? We’ll be updating this post thoroughly—both live and also to paste in photos as we can.

1:33 Kenney says, in all of his years on this panel, he’s never been more excited for one. And with all the news they want to share about Wrigley Field’s future, they’re going to keep this session to the ballpark only.

1:34 “I never thought we’d have a focus group on the troughs,” Kenney says to more laughs. Fan feedback played an integral role through the entire process here, and it’s a cornerstone of what we’re about to see.

“We can better serve our fans” and “We can better serve our partners” are key goals here, with the latter referring to neighbors, media and sponsors.

1:36 Total price tag? $300 million. A guiding principle is for people to experience Wrigley Field as those did generations ago.

1:38 Video playing now, with Pat Hughes narrating the walkthrough. Great stuff!

A quick rundown:

Expanded concourses, more point-of-sale, so less lines. Structural upgrades in the upper deck, with the wooden roof being removed. The seats and concrete will be removed from the upper deck for new seating platforms. Then a new grandstand roof will be built.

The lower deck will undergo a makeover too. Behind the dugouts, seats and concrete will be removed. New steel structures will be built and seating platforms added. All of this is to make way for a new underground batting tunnel for Cubs players. Dale Sveum’s prayers answered!

Expanded dugout, clubhouse and training room (with hydrotherapy available).

Better premium seats and lounges. The press will have a better seating area as well as enhanced network infrastructure.

More behind-the-scenes: better food-delivery avenues, plumbing and more. Restroom capacity will increase by 42%. Food points of sale will increase 100%.

New outdoor concessions servicing the upper deck, allowing fans to eat and enjoy great views of the city.

And great news: The historic facades of the ballpark will be preserved.

The video has just ended, and the crowd is going crazy! It’s electric in here.

1:43 1935 is probably when the ballpark was looking its best (from the exterior), says Kenney. The front office started by researching Charles Weeghman, the restrauteur and owner of the Chicago Whales who originally built Wrigley Field (then known as Weeghman Park). His architect was, of course, Zachary Taylor Thomas. Total construction time? 12 weeks. And a price tag of $250,000. Somehow, it’s going to take a bit more this time.

Kenney is giving a great overview of the history of Wrigley Field here—landing on the Wrigley Family’s 1937 renovation of the ballpark that added the bleachers, scoreboard and ivy we love today. (Vine Line last year covered the 75th anniversary of those seminal renovations.)

Then, of course, there have been some other renovations along the way: mezzanine suites, press box, dugout boxes are examples.

1:46 Another key part of the process was to visit some other iconic ballparks that have been renovated, with Fenway Park being a prime example. They asked what went right, wrong and otherwise.

“We then assembled our dream team, for what we think is the greatest restoration ever. … You’ll notice we most often refer to this project as a ‘restoration project.'”

Some of the firms involved have worked on Chicago’s Navy Pier and Block 37, as well as some iconic buildings in Paris.

“Because we will be doing this during offseasons, we will not be playing elsewhere while we do this restoration project.” BIG applause.

1:50 Now it’s Alex Sugarman, vice president of business development, to talk about gathering fan feedback. The process started in 2010—surveys in person at the ballpark, as well as email and phone. “What makes Wrigley Field so special? What elements of the ballpark are sacred in your minds? What’s been passed on from generation to generation?” It’s all about making the experience of the ballpark on that sunny afternoon better.

Great response: 22,831 total completed phone and email surveys—the team wanted to get about 10 times the typical response to polls.

Some findings: Historic scoreboard, ivy, marquee are sacred. The intimate atmosphere and historic aura of the gameday experience. The feel when you first see the grass. The view of the playing field from your seats. They took to heart the story of a fan who today enjoys the same seats with his son that he once did with his father.

Not surprisingly, not all the feedback was positive: More bathrooms, they need to be better. More concession points-of-sale. Reduce concourse congestion. More amenities for fans and families. Better entertainment space and areas for social interaction. Space for game statistics (80% of fans polled liked the new LED board in right field—another success in the subtle, but effective, renovations to Wrigley Field over the last decade).

Alex ends by thanking the fans for taking time out of their lives to help the team understand so much about the Cubs’ home.

1:56 GM Jed Hoyer now talking about player facilities. The ballpark was a huge plus to him and Theo Epstein—and they were familiar with tiny clubhouses and a lack of batting cages from pre-renovation Fenway Park. They both saw how it changed the organization, to go from an iconic ballpark with a beautiful seating bowl to one with first-class facilities.

“As an organization, we’re building something special on the baseball side,” but now the Ricketts family and the business people working hard on the new spring training, Dominican and now Wrigley Field facilities will help their mission immensely.

Hoyer reminds us that he and Theo had only seen the visiting clubhouse before—and it was eye opening when he saw the Cubs’ home den. He said the current one is more fitting of a Double-A facility. Hoyer specifically recalls asking what the net hanging from the ceiling of the clubhouse was there for. Turns out, players would drop the net to get some swings in during games. Sad but true.

“We didn’t tell Theo about that when we were hiring you,” Kenney interjects.

“Very true,” snaps Hoyer. More laughs.

2:01 Hoyer continues: “We need batting tunnels, we need weight rooms for first-class strength and conditioning, and we need a better clubhouse.”

Epstein, Hoyer, Sveum and the players have all been heavily involved in the player facilities—nothing will be spared if it will make for a better work environment that enables them to succeed.

Hoyer makes the case that facilities do matter for professional baseball players. “It’s wonderful to have ownership support of first overhauling the Dominican facility, the spring training facility and now Wrigley Field.” Hoyer says that the baseball side is targeting regular October appearances that will dovetail with the restoration here.

2:03 More news from Kenney! The ribbon will be cut on the new Dominican academy in May. And for Spring Training in Mesa, Ariz., it will be around November of this year. And now the pressure is on to make sure that prospects don’t ironically experience a drop-off once they make it to Chicago.

2:05 Carl Rice now on some foundational details: 50 million pounds of new steel. Quarter mile of concession stands total. Over two miles of hand rails. Some work has already begun. Over $10 million a year being spent on concrete and steel, affecting the ramps, bathrooms and other key parts of Wrigley Field.

Accessibility: Six new elevators, ADA seating around the ballpark, energy efficiency throughout. Reduce water consumption, in bathrooms for instance.

2:09 Colin Faulkner, who heads up the ticket office, now talking about fan amenities and experience.

The Nuveen Mezzanine Suites level: New entrance, expanded suites without reducing total number (by increasing usable areas), clubs and other areas to congregate.

Budweiser Bleachers: Better food and beverage options. To the left, a new fan deck that will be touched on more later.

Upgraded press box. New suites. And a new restaurant where the Cubs’ administrative offices used to be (beneath the 200 level around the infield). A proposed home-plate club.

2:12 Now Mike Lufrano, who heads up community affairs, on the Cubs and the neighborhood. The team has listened to the community on things like parking, areas that the community can use and less parking right at Clark and Addison (though more available overall).

Marketing chief Wally Hayward is reminding fans of the unveiling of the Budweiser Right Field Patio and LED board last year. The team also added the Audi Legends Club.

“Because this worked so well in right field, we’re talking about other opportunities to enhance your amenities and experience.” They’re looking at left field for a new deck. (Don’t worry—pictures coming as soon as the information slows!)

Though this isn’t strictly facilities, the team has worked with Levy Restaurants to bring gluten-free options, and other local food options to add new choices.

One great example that the Rickettses announced on Thursday: A partnership with Starwood for a hotel across from the park.

2:20 Next up is marketing director Allison Miller. Bringing technology to Wrigley Field without compromising the experience. In-game stats and highlights. They’re proposing today a left field LED board that will help provide those.

$10 million spent over the last two years on wifi connectivity. Audio improvements are a focus too so that all fans get similar (and similarly great) experiences on that end.

2:23 Now Steve Jacobsen, the team’s architectural consultant. He’s talking about the historical inspiration for the restoration. (Turns out that the seven-week timetable for the original Wrigley Field includes a two-day Teamsters strike.) The team did “forensic research,” peeling away the layers of the renovations to the ballpark, what all the elements were and how they worked together.

Green terra-cotta awnings and fan-shaped iron openings being contrasted with the concrete panels and chain-link fences on the exterior now. They’re focusing on going back in time to take Wrigley Field forward. Things close with rendered images of the restored exterior, showing exactly those details.

And that wraps up the meat of things, with some last cross sections and questions coming now. Kenney says that nothing has been left untouched, from roof to foundation. He does warn that there will be inconveniences over the next several years due to the construction, but that they will all be worth it. The Ricketts family gets a sustained round of applause for being the driving force behind the preservation of Wrigley Field.

2:29 A fan asks if the Cubs had looked at reducing the number of posts/obstructions in the seating bowl. Rice says that they did, but because of the upper-deck overhand (and how low it is to the terrace), they wouldn’t be able to do it without compromising Wrigley Field’s beloved seating bowl.

2:30 Kenney answers a fan on personal seat licenses, or PSLs, by saying that the Ricketts family has said from the beginning that they are not on the table. Also, less than 100 seats are being added to the bowl, so season-ticket holders will not be displaced.

2:31 How about the low grade of the seating bowl? Kenney says that they will have a chance to adjust it with all the structural work being done, but the original architects did an impressive job with the design so major changes are not expected.

2:33 One fan says that he wants to MAKE SURE that nothing changes about the visiting clubhouse. Huge laughs and applause! Kenney says that outside of MLB-mandated batting cages, the visiting clubhouse isn’t part of the restoration project.

2:34 First on the docket? The clubhouse.

2:35 An extended explanation of funding—which, make no mistake, is from the Ricketts family—was given by Kenney. Good details about the dialogue between the team and the city, though we’ll spare all the details here.

That wraps things up for this live blog, but don’t go too far—lots of pictures coming to the blog shortly!

Thanks for a great day blogging with us. We’ll be back with the live blogs tomorrow and more posts throughout the 2013 Cubs Convention.

3 Comments

Hopefully the video will be posted in the future for the rest of us to get excited about (so we may be more willing to pay more if we know what is coming).

Agreed. Can’t wait for the video.
I couldn’t refresh fast enough to receive all of the updates! Exciting stuff!

Thanks for following along! We’ll pass along the feedback—it’s been a thrill to see how excited everyone is here at the Cubs Convention.

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