Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wrigley Field: Year 97...same as it ever was.

A few weeks ago the season tickets holders got a long (and by long…it was 4 pages) letter from the Tom Ricketts over the state of the team and what they can expect to happen during this offseason.

The letter was published in a number of the newspaper sites and Tim over at Aisle 424 did a wonderful analysis of the letter (broken into five parts here, here, here, here, and here).

The truth is, nothing in it, for the most part, should have surprised most of the season ticket holders.

But I was very disappointed and somewhat surprised by one aspect of the letter…the plans for renovation of Wrigley Field.

From the letter:
“We committed over $10 million to that effort last year, largely to improve restrooms, add new food options, recast concrete, upgrade steel and other general maintenance. We will continue this effort in 2011 but again the focus will be more tactical than strategic.”

Crap…what the hell?

The rumor has started going around, also, that Wrigley 2014 has been put on hold…but have no confirmation of this at all and may have just been a joke. (For those of you who don't know Wrigley 2014 is/was a program the Cubs wanted to put in place to completely overhaul the ballpark in time for the 2014 season, which would coincide with the 100th year of baseball at the ballpark.)

“We spent much of the 2010 season assembling a team of renowned architects, engineers, designers and project managers to develop a master plan for a more significant Wrigley Field overhaul and Triangle Building development.”

I’m sorry, and I know this is somewhat of a delicate issue with Wrigley being as old as it is and the semi-landmark status it has, but the Ricketts family has had 1 year to evaluate the state of Wrigley and put together a plan for the renovation. Seriously, they must be working with some of the slowest architects and engineers that are available out there.

“Our planning will continue in 2011 and your involvement through the quality assurance surveys mentioned earlier is very important. We look forward to completing the analysis phase and getting underway with the construction and occupation phase.”

I'm guessing my comment about them just blowing up the damn park and starting over is being ignored.

So we wait another year.

The Tribune Company spent their last year of ownership working with HOK Sports (now known as Populous) on a renovation plan for Wrigley (of which would have been part of a sale of the ballpark to the state)…and I believe, in the end, the Ricketts family pretty much threw out that proposal. So what’s going on here?

I know I might sound a bit impatient here, but we’ve been hearing about massive renovation plans for Wrigley Field since the Tribune bought the team in 1981. In the end, only three truly major projects happened during their ownership stint…the new dugout/clubhouse work in the early 80's, the skyboxes and press box (along with the lights) in the late 80's and the bleacher reconstruction 5 years ago. Those first two projects, (clubhouse/dugout/skyboxs/pressbox) resulted in changes to areas of the ballpark that are now again obsolete and need to be renovated again.

The biggest fear is that a major renovation to the ballpark may continue to be put off for years under the excuse that the revenues aren't there to do the work. This could very well turn into a nasty cycle that looks something like this...

-Renovations won't happen because of lack of revenues.
-Revenues are likely to continue to sag unless the team starts winning.
-The team will have a hard time competing because of inadequate facilities.

The same sort of cycle could be done as far as a new facility is required for generating revenue, but the team doesn't have the revenue to build a new facility.

To me, lack of revenue, not planning, is what is delaying this. Plenty of time has passed to plan this out. The owners are $450 million in debt, and did not meet budget on income this season (we all assume).

The last point in my list up there (inadequate facilities) is probably something some of you would disagree with. Until recently, I would have said the Cubs could compete even with the current state that Wrigley Field was in. I no longer feel that way. Look, it's not the only reason the Cubs can't put together a consistent winner, but I believe that now, it is a serious contributing factor.

That's a discussion for another day, as this post is getting too long already.

The truth is, though, the longer the Cubs continue to delay work to Wrigley Field, the more damaging it will be the team in the long run. The stadium, in my opinion, has become a joke. It shouldn't take this long for a renovation plan to be devised. Something else might be at work here...and I have a hunch that it has something to do with the $450 million in debt the Ricketts family is right now, and the fact that the team is worth less now than when they bought it one year ago.