Bleacher bums at Wrigley Field will soon have an easier time getting food and beer and a wider array of concession choices.
On Thursday, the permit review committee of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks approved new bleacher concessions, just in time for next week’s long-anticipated opening of the new right-field bleachers.
The sorely needed makeover calls for two large permanent concessions — one facing Waveland, the other facing Sheffield — beneath the historic manual scoreboard in center field.
In addition, the Cubs plan to build four smaller concession stands technically considered “portable” because they are not “affixed to the structure” of 101-year-old Wrigley.
Two will be located beneath the large video scoreboard in left field. The other two will be located beneath the script sign in right field.
The new concessions will vastly improve the bleacher experience, according to Mike Lufrano, executive vice president of the Cubs. The long lines and limited food options in the bleachers could be a distant memory as early as July.
“Today, they’re served by a different array of both permanent and really small portable concession stands — hot dog carts and the like,” Lufrano said.
“This will add more permanent concession stands on the level where the seating is. It allows us to better reach those fans and, hopefully, shorten lines and shorten wait times so they can get back to watching the ballgame . . . Over time, this will take the place of the carts that are out there now because it’ll be centrally located, easily accessible and offer more options.”
At the request of historic preservation staff, the Cubs have agreed to paint the new concession stands “Wrigley Field green” to make them “consistent with the exterior ballpark structure.”
The team also agreed to position the concession stands “beneath existing signs” to limit what one staffer called “the clutter that you see on the upper decks.”
Technically, only the two permanent bleacher concessions needed approval from the permit review committee of the Landmarks Commission.
That’s because the other four are not “permanently affixed” to the structure of the landmarked stadium.
But the distinction was lost on Chairman Rafael Leon.
“Can you define portable? If those concessions are going to be there every season forever, aren’t those then permanent? . . . It’s permanently in the same place . . . This could go on forever?” Leon said.
Commission member Mary Ann Smith added, “I understand . . . that, within the law and the rules and regs, we can permit this to happen. But I’d like to know on the flip-side, why not do a permanent installation, rather than a portable? What’s the point? It sounds like it’s a permanent portable. Why are we going through this gymnastic move here?”
Chicago landmarks chief Eleanor Gorski replied, “We do recognize that they’re large and they are going to be a new presence in the bleachers, which is why we brought them here before you to answer these very questions. But until a building permit is required, they are considered portable.”
The overhaul of the bleacher concessions is part of a $375 million makeover of 101-year-old Wrigley that’s now expected to be completed by 2019.
Smith acknowledged that she has put the Cubs “through all kinds of hell” as the team jumped through the regulatory hoops demanded by landmark status.
But with the video board up in left and the script sign up in right, she said, “The feedback I’m getting is that it’s wonderful. That it just feels wonderful. It’s being executed in a way that’s beyond what people expected or feared. I just wanted to pass that onto you from the hard-core Cubs fans who move in and out of my life.”
Still, Smith couldn’t resist raising a sore-point from opening day.
“With additional [bleacher] concession stands, have we solved the bathroom problem? The more you drink, the more you need a bathroom,” Smith said.
Lufrano countered, “These concession stands are in the bleacher area, and the bleacher area bathrooms were ready. As the bleachers have been opened, there have been plenty of restrooms in the bleachers.”