Likening Wrigleyville to “a town in Europe,” Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts on Thursday fleshed out his vision for an open-air plaza outside a renovated Wrigley Field that would “energize the neighborhood all year-round.”
“Unfortunately, on non-game days, there’s not a lot going on around Wrigley Field. As we restore the ballpark to its former beauty, I tell our guys, `Think about when you’re walking through a town in Europe and you stumble across an historic building.’ The way it’s lit. And you see people just hanging around it because it’s so beautiful and so warm and so historic,” Ricketts told the tourism group known as Choose Chicago at its annual meeting.
“We have to have our ballpark look like that on non-game days. People just want to be there, is our goal. So building a plaza to do things like farmer’s markets and ice rinks and things that are friendly to the neighbors as well as building a plaza to do different types of shows and different types of events should begin to drive more revenue” and create that year-round attraction.
Earlier this year, local Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) angered the Cubs with his attempt to roll back — to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 10 p.m. on weekends — the team’s ability to sell beer and wine from kiosks at an open-air plaza adjacent to a renovated Wrigley.
Tunney said he was simply trying to strike a balance between the Cubs’ need to generate additional revenue and the community’s demand for peace and quiet.
“The Cubs don’t get everything they want. The community doesn’t everything they want. That’s the nature of politics. There’s negotiating points on either side,” the alderman said then.
The Cubs accused Tunney of going “too far” and “defeating the purpose of the plaza” in his attempt to appease Wrigleyville residents and minimize the competition with local bars and restaurants.
On Thursday, Ricketts steered clear of the controversy surrounding the hours governing liquor sales on the plaza or the activities that, some community leaders fear, will generate too much noise at too late an hour.
Instead, he showcased the $450 million renovation of the 102-year-old stadium. It was built in 1914, in six weeks, for $250,000 — and as they try to repair it, that becomes obvious, Ricketts said as the Cadillac Palace Theater dissolved into laughter.
“We are literally rebuilding the ballpark one beam of steel at a time,” Ricketts said.
“Fifteen-hundred tons of steel I think is the . . .number. And we’re basically taking everything out and replacing it. . . . After we replace all the steel, it’s going to have all of the amenities of a modern ballpark, but still all of the charm. . . . Probably the biggest goal of mine for the ballpark is 40 percent more washrooms — 54 percent for women and, like, 41 percent for guys.”
After the applause died down, Ricketts talked about his No.1 goal: Winning the World Series for the first time since 1908. Last year. the Cubs made it all the way to the National League Championship Series before being swept by the Mets.
After spending $272 million on three free-agents — Jason Heyward, John Lackey and Ben Zobrist — they’re hoping to take that final step and end the longest drought in professional sports.
“I never, ever, ever get a chance to forget this is our No. 1 goal because every single day, someone walks up to me and, before telling me their name, they tell me their age. And it goes pretty much like this, ‘Mr. Ricketts, I’m 71-years-old. Please win the World Series before I die,’” Ricketts said to more laughter.
“And I’m always like, ‘OK. 71. World Series. You’re putting pressure on me now. Do you take care of yourself? Do you eat well? Do you exercise?’”
Ricketts then closed with a one-liner.
“So many people have told me please win the World Series before I die that when we do win the World Series, there will be a short-term spike in local mortality.”