04/05/2002 4:10 pm ET
Message is clear, views are not
Dispute stems from renovation plans
By Carrie Muskat / MLB.com
CHICAGO -- Folks watching the Chicago Cubs from the rooftops surrounding the outfield could still see Friday's home opener against Pittsburgh but the view wasn't as clear. The team's message was.
The Cubs installed dark green screens to the wire mesh fences rimming the outfield, partly for security and partly to make a statement.
"From where I am, we're working hard to keep Wrigley Field viable and move into the future and put a winning team on the field," said Mark McGuire, executive vice president, business operations for the Cubs. "To do that we need to make improvements to Wrigley Field, we need the expansion project that we've been fighting for for 14 months. The rooftops have worked very actively to keep us from getting what we want accomplished and we have a big issue with that."
The "rooftops" are the entrepreneurs who have converted neighboring condominiums along Waveland and Sheffield avenues and built sports bars with stadium seating on top to watch the game.
"I think the rooftop people, when they were up there with Weber grills and lawn chairs and very few dollars changed hands, it was a romantic thing that we didn't have a lot of interest in," McGuire said. "We didn't want to be the big bad guy to block their views back then.
"The reality is now, they're paying more than $100 a person to enjoy our product and we're getting nothing out of it," McGuire said. "Nor am I aware they're doing anything to solve the neighborhood problems. I think it has become an issue for us that's a lot different than the '80s when the rooftops were first developed. I think there are solutions here and I think we need to find the solutions."
"Maybe they want these guys to come inside to the field," Cubs right fielder Sammy Sosa said. "In order for them to do that, they've got to do what they've got to do."
The Cubs feel they need to renovate Wrigley Field to increase revenue but also are aware of the need to address community concerns about the impact the games have on the Wrigleyville neighborhood.
Since it was originally proposed, the Cubs have modified their renovation plan, reducing the number of bleacher seats to be added from 2,600 to 1,980. The design has been softened, reducing the number of columns on the sidewalk and moving the columns closer to the ballpark. The Cubs also are willing to drop 2:20 p.m. CT starts because of the traffic problems the late games create for residents coming home from work.
"We have the third smallest seating capacity, we're 85 to 90 years old," McGuire said of Wrigley Field. "To compete and to win, we have to make changes to this ballpark and push it into the future.
"If you look at our own division, as soon as St. Louis accomplishes its new stadium, we're the only team left that's not playing in a new facility," he said. "We think we can compete in Wrigley Field and win in Wrigley Field but to do that we need more resources. That's what this is all about."
McGuire said the Wrigleyville community has not expressed objections about the plans, only the rooftop businesses. At a community meeting March 6, he said "the majority of the people were in favor of the Cubs and the Cubs' plan."
One reason the Cubs gave for the screens was to improve security, McGuire said.
"Everybody who enters the ballpark is having their bags checked," he said. "We had dogs go through the ballpark sniffing for bombs. We're in a heightened level of security within our own walls. We don't know who's responsible for what's happening across the street."
The screens are just part of the plan. The Cubs also have a "balloon plan" and can add balloons to the edge of the fence to further block the view from the rooftops.
"We feel (the balloons) really destroy sightlines from the rooftops," McGuire said. "We did not want to do that today. We wanted to keep the focus on baseball and the team and not have any more of a distraction than what we have."
McGuire said he has not talked to Mayor Richard Daley's office directly regarding complaints by the rooftop businesses.
"We continue to want to sit down and get those things resolved with the city and get that done," he said.
Carrie Muskat covers the Cubs for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.