On May 1, 2013, during a talk at the City Club of Chicago, Cubs owner and chairman Tom Ricketts said that if the team wasn't allowed to increase advertising signage in its ballpark, including a 5,700-square-foot video board in left field, the Cubs might bolt.
"If it comes to the point that we don't have the ability to do what we need to do in our outfield, then we're going to have to consider moving," Ricketts said. "Simple as that."
He got the Jumbotron, but the threat was a balk. The move was never going to happen.
The mere suggestion of, say, the Rosemont Cubs, was ludicrous.
Because, for decades—and even now, as the team prepares to contest its first World Series since 1945—the Cubs' main draw has been Wrigley Field.
The reasons for this include Wrigley's century-old stadium and its funky, vintage north-side neighborhood, both with a national following thanks to years of game broadcasts on WGN. That, and the Cubs' lovable losers persona, which lowered expectations for performance while guaranteeing a good time in the party atmosphere of the Friendly Confines.
The Cubs have now—to our incredulous delight, and after several painful years of team restructuring—shucked the lovable losers component. But as the Ricketts family has acknowledged in its careful restoration of the stadium, the venue will continue to be the franchise's most dependable attraction. And that makes the coming changes—currently represented by the bombed-out construction zones bordering the stadium—more than a little jarring.
Contrast Wrigley to the concrete fortresses of newer stadiums—including that unfortunately renamed Guaranteed Rate Field across town. Cubs Park has been sitting neatly in the midst of a neighborhood of human scale, mostly surrounded by two- and three-story brick, frame, and brownstone homes, for more than 100 years.
The Rickettses seem to understand the iconic value of the fringe of rooftop viewing perches these homes provide—they now own and operate the majority of them. But on the west side of the stadium, they're doing something on a different scale entirely, putting up a five-story office and retail building, a seven-story, 175-room Starwood hotel and restaurant facility, and a plaza beer garden dominated by another giant video screen and a stanchion that'll apparently bear the name of a sponsor.
Meanwhile, on the southeast side of the stadium, across Addison Street, M&R Development and Bucksbaum Retail Properties is constructing the huge Addison & Clark complex around and behind the small corner buildings housing the only survivors among the businesses that previously occupied that block—Sports World, an auto repair shop, and a ticket broker. The massive new development will consist of 148 rental apartments, 150,000 square feet of retail and restaurants, a fitness club, a ten-screen movie theater, and more than 400 parking spaces.
The sum of these three buildings looks to be a bulky, characterless intrusion better suited to Rosemont than to Wrigleyville, as hard to like as the four new clubs for 1 percenters planned for inside the stadium. (Members will enjoy premier seats, separate entrances, and the ability to avoid the rest of us riffraff in private clubrooms.)
Maureen Martino, executive director of the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce, says that local business owners are excited about the changes: the combination of a winning team and redevelopment is going to bring in more people, and may, she says, answer the perennial question “How does the neighborhood survive when there's no game, or during the winter?”
Her answer, and the one supplied by the Rickettses, may dismay some longtime fans and neighborhood residents.
"As we see Wrigley Field being developed, we'll see a different face of Lakeview," Martino says: "More of a tourist destination." v