Of Preservation and Parasites: Architects Debate the Latest Wrigley Field Renovation Plan

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The Chicago Cubs own the record for the longest stretch without a World Series win. Can a renovated, revitalized Wrigley Field change their fortunes, and perhaps lift the 104-year old curse?

Whether or not a modern, digital scoreboard (inside the park) and shiny new office building and hotel (outside the park) turn the team around isn’t known. What is clear: the changes to Wrigley Field and the surrounding neighborhood will bring in new revenue for the team.

For Cubs fans, Wrigleyville residents and design professionals, the more pressing question is, will the makeover help or harm the century-year-old ballpark. That was the subject of debate at a lively panel discussion Monday night at Moe’s Cantina, 3518 North Clark Street, just a block from Wrigley Field.

Jonathan Eig

Jonathan Eig

A packed house heard from architects Dan Meis, Elva Rubio, and Edward Lifson (who doubled as moderator); author Jonathan Eig; and Northwestern University professor Bill Savage.

Meis, who designed Los Angeles’ Staples Center, has been working on sports venues for 25 years.

“We often forget how important these buildings are to people,” he said. “This is one of only two baseball stadiums with an original history (the other being Boston’s Fenway Park). We have to recognize that it’s the original history that’s beloved. But, the building has to evolve or it can become a relic and then, everyone loses.”

Elva Rubio

Elva Rubio

Rubio, who was hired by the Cubs organization several years ago to offer recommendations on a design, said the ballpark definitely needs to be modernized, albeit with discretion.

“There’s nothing like it anywhere in the world,” Rubio said. “We look at it as an asset.”

She also told the audience that earlier Wrigleyville renovation plans included a five-story mall in front of the ballpark, but, “We convinced them not to do that.”

The far-reaching discussion focused largely on the pros and cons of a massive digital scoreboard. Eig said fans expect to see replays of key events during a game seconds after they see them live.

“There is a demand for more information,” Eig said. “You see fans following the game on their smartphones. Maybe you don’t need game statistics on the scoreboard if you can get them on your phone.”

The panelists all agreed that a larger, digital scoreboard was probably inevitable, but Savage had little sympathy for the owners of rooftop seats on Waveland and Sheridan.

“If any rooftop owners are here,” Savage said, “I apologize, but you’re parasites.”

 

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at bill@ChicagoArchitecture.org.

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