STREETERVILLE — Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts shared his high hopes for the team's new Clark Street plaza at the Cubs Convention Saturday: that it would serve as "the town square of the North Side," and fix the area surrounding Wrigley Field, which he has described as "just not that great."
Ricketts said the team's new plaza between the park and Clark Street would remedy the area's current split personality he described as part sports hub, part neighborhood and part singles hangout.
"We want to have things that make it more of a community. We want to make our plaza like the town square of the North Side of Chicago," Ricketts said as part of a panel at the team's annual convention, held this weekend at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers, 301 E. North Water St.
Yet one obstacle to achieving that goal, Ricketts said, is the time constraint proposed for the plaza by Ald. Tom Tunney (44th). He added that he hoped the plaza would be subject to the same alcohol restrictions as any other bar in Wrigleyville.
"I wish the alderman trusted us slightly more," Ricketts said. When Tunney's name came up in a question from the audience during a morning panel discussion, Ricketts joked, "I knew we would get to my favorite topic."
The plaza should be ready "at some point of the end of the baseball season," according to Carl Rice, the team's vice president in charge of the Wrigley restoration, with the full plaza and office building above, including restaurants, to be completed by Opening Day in 2017.
The club plans to have concerts, farmers' markets and even a winter ice rink at the plaza, with a concert capacity of about 7,000.
Crane Kenney, the team's business president, said later in the day at another panel that the team would be looking for "help" from the city to expand its control over the area immediately surrounding the ballpark to 100 feet in all directions. The club is looking to shut down Clark and Addison streets on game days in what he called a security matter.
He said the team was still interested in converting Sheffield Avenue to a "pedestrian mall," calling it "a great opportunity," but added that the same wasn't possible for Waveland Avenue because of the Fire Department station across from the left-field corner.
Otherwise, Ricketts promised "there won't be a lot of major changes" in the current second phase of the Wrigley renovation. Although much is being done in "infrastructure," he added, "replacing almost every piece of steel in the ballpark," little will change otherwise, although the plaza and the team's new clubhouse will be noticeable additions, especially for the players where the clubhouse is concerned.
"We want to treat the guys as well as we can," Ricketts added.
Kenney said the Cubs' offseason construction schedule had been trimmed from 26 weeks to 20 weeks, because they have a team that "wants to play ball into October."
In a Major League Baseball initiative not connected with the renovation, the club will widen netting behind home plate to the edges of both dugouts next season.
Ricketts said fans would notice more changes next year with the third phase of the rehab, including a new gate on the west side of Wrigley expected to improve the time it takes to get into and out of the stadium, although he was quick not to promise too much and to mention the security measures required after the terror attacks in Paris last year.
"Security's not gonna get any easier for us," Ricketts said.
Kenney later added that, for the first time, the team would be deploying metal detectors for fans to pass through this season, so they may want to adjust how much time they leave to get to their seats.
In another timing issue, Kenney announced there would be no 3:05 p.m. Friday games this season, after manager Joe Maddon asked for "more consistency" in start times for the sake of the players. The 3:05 starts were a thorny issue in negotiations with the city on additional night games three years ago.
When asked about the team's recent purchase of three more neighboring rooftop buildings, bringing their total ownership up to 10, Ricketts framed it as a problem-solving effort to resolve ongoing issues with property owners and business interests around the field.
"Over time, we've bought a majority of the rooftops," he said. "We think that's the right way to handle" past conflicts with rooftop owners over sight lines and other issues.
The team is launching a new website, wrigleyrooftops.com, to handle all its rooftop business.
Ricketts was sympathetic to complaints from out-of-town Cubs fans that they sometimes can't get the games on TV, given the way the team's broadcasts are divided up between cable and local outlets. He said he hoped to address that in years to come when the team is freed up to make its own, new TV deal.
"There's a lot of legacy contracts we have to work through," he added, before that can happen.
"Our rights come back to us in 2019," Kenney later added. "That would allow us to start our own network."
There will be a new bar in the bleachers this season, and Kenney said the team would be replacing 7,000 seats in what's called the left-field terrace on the way to replacing all the park's seats over the next five years.
Kenney said the removed seats would be cleaned up and offered for sale, first to the season-ticket holders who occupied them.
"Don't clean them too much," said one interested fan.
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