CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Cubs, who have clung to the past the way ivy clings to Wrigley Field's outfield walls, won final approval Wednesday for a $500 million renovation project at the 99-year-old ballpark — including a massive Jumbotron like the ones towering over every other major league stadium.
A voice vote in the City Council gave the team permission to move forward with plans that will dramatically change the ballpark experience on Chicago's north side. The most notable alteration is the 5,700-square-foot video scoreboard in left field — roughly three times the size of the iconic manual one in center, which will remain in operation as well.
The team also will be able to erect a large advertising sign in right field, double the size of the cramped clubhouse, improve player training facilities in the bowels of the ballpark and build a 175-room hotel across the street.
Some fans say the upgrades are almost as overdue as a Cubs World Series championship (which last happened in 1908 — eight years before the team moved into Wrigley).
"Why would you not want any of the improvements that have come over the last 60-70 years?" asked Dutchie Caray, the widow of the famed announcer Harry Caray, whose leading the fans in 'Take Me Out To The Ball Game' helped turn Wrigley into the huge attraction it is today. "Would you ask someone not to have television because they didn't have television in the old days (or) want to travel by horse and buggy to the West Coast?
Collectively, the changes — some of which could be completed as early as next season — represent the most dramatic additions since at least 1988, when the Cubs became the last team in the majors to install lights. That change sparked a battle even more fierce than the one over the Jumbotron.
In the decades since Wrigley became the Cubs' home, the park has not always aged gracefully; the team once even installed nets to catch concrete falling from the upper deck.
Although Wednesday's action was the last step in the long approval process, still unresolved is a dispute between the team and owners of the famous rooftops overlooking the field. The team's owner said Wednesday that the threat of a lawsuit could potentially delay the upgrade.