Rooftops vs. Renovations
Since the 1980’s landlords of former residential buildings positioned across the street from Wrigley Field created a business off of Cubs fans. But this industry now faces an uncertain future if Tom Ricketts gets his way.
A proposed $500-million renovation of the 100-year-old ballpark was approved by the Chicago City Council and is set to begin. However, a binding contract with rooftop owners, giving the team 17 percent of gross revenue, is in effect until 2024. And now with rooftop owners potentially threatening a lawsuit because the proposed signage would obstruct views, the process has come to a halt. Although legal action would only delay the process rather than stop it, said President of Business Operations Crane Kenney, the Cubs still want to maintain a good relationship with their neighbors.
With all of this uproar and being an avid Wrigley-goer for years, I had to see what all of the fuss was about before it was too late. So I purchased my ticket (on Groupon) and could hardly sleep the night before because of the excitement of a new Chicago experience.
At 3609 Sheffield St., directly across the street from where I entered Wrigley so many times before, my ticket was scanned. There was no line for purse check, no waiting alongside intoxicated twenty-somethings, and the confusion (for new comers) of finding your seat in the ballpark was constrained to floor 3 or 5.
Following my nose, I’ve entered a crowded room of Cubbie blue and got in line to fill my plate on the third floor. Guests chose a style of bun, then their choice of meat, and ballpark nachos as a side. There was a fruit platter and pasta salad chilling on ice and a dessert table full of ice cream sundae toppings with warm cookies. After the food, the beverage bar displayed many beer and soda choices for guests. With my hotdog and cold Bud Light in hand, I easily found a table in front of a wide screen TV to enjoy the pregame activities.
The food was enjoyable, and all-inclusive, so seconds were a must. Pleasant gentlemen moved around the room to clear plates and cups regularly. But in the midst of stuffing my face, I looked up at the TV to find that Wayne Messmer was singing the National Anthem. Without missing a beat, I threw off my ball cap and placed my hand over my heart, but none of the other guests followed suit. I was immediately offended and wanted to tell the staff to turn up the volume, but I realized ‘I don’t do this when I am watching the game at home.’ Which is what I was doing. Watching the game on a widescreen.
I soon decided to check out floor 5 where the rooftop seating was to get more of the ballpark feel that I seasonally cherish. Much like the bleachers in Wrigley, it was first come, first serve. I easily found a seat in the first row in front of a welcoming family decked out in Cubs gear, clearly enjoying themselves. I could see the entire field, aside from a beam obstructing my view of home plate. I began to chat with the family, who was playing some sort of game with dollar bills and beer. They explained an out meant you paid $1, a single would earn you $1, a double $5, a triple $10, and a home run gave you the whole pot. Oh, and the beer, you had to drink out of your non-dominant hand or one may call “Buffalo!” requiring the individual to chug the remains of the glass. I asked what happened when the Cubs were on defense, and they stared blankly. Thinking I possibly entered a food coma and didn’t annunciate properly, I asked again. I almost fell off the bleacher when they explained that it didn’t matter. Attempting to wrap my head around what was said, the brother saw my confusion and openly admitted that they were not Cubs fans. They were from Indiana and just enjoyed baseball.
A bit caught off guard, I continued to talk to the family and wanted to get their take on Wrigley renovations since I assumed they traveled to games often.
“Never heard of it,” said the sister clearly more interested in the Reds getting on base.
I continued to explain that a massive sign would obstruct the seats they were sitting in currently, but no one seemed phased. For the duration of the game, I listened to a combination of “Buffalo!” calls and cheering for the wrong team while watching a game that I didn’t even feel like I was a part of. Eventually the Cubbies lost (surprise, surprise) and after being approached by two men extending an invitation to the Cubby Bear (politely declining both), I sat in silence and disappointment watching my favorite ballpark clear out from afar.
A bright red haired young man in a khakis walked around picking up trash after everyone had shuffled to the bars and a small spark of hope ignited inside of me. Maybe he would tell me how great the rooftops were. I had to catch it on a bad day! I was only filled with further disappointment when he said this was typical and a simple shoulder shrug was his only reaction when I asked him about the renovations.
“One less rooftop to work at,” he said. He pointed at the others in left field and explained he would have the rest of those to keep him busy all summer.
With my head low and tail between my legs, I caught the next empty cab home. Solemnly staring out the window I realized how much I wanted to love my rooftop experience. The idea of ‘all you can eat and drink’ with few lines and clean bathrooms seems ideal for any avid sports enthusiast. However, I felt like an outsider to the game. There were no random high fives when Starlin Castro scored in the seventh. No collaborative boo-ing of the umpire’s calls from behind home plate. And no constant cackling at the Red’s outfielders with strangers sharing a common distaste for the better team. No, this was not the Wrigley experience at all. In fact, not completing the renovations would be a disservice to all Cubs fans.
Ricketts, you may continue.