Special Segments

The Fenway Way

Sunday, May 06, 2012

City Hall and the Chicago Cubs are said to be close to an agreement on a plan for major renovations to Wrigley Field.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he could support a deal similar to one done in Boston. So everyone wants to know: What could it look like?

Renovating stadiums is never simple. Especially when so many feel such an attachment to a place like Wrigley Field.

The Cubs say they sorely need to update the ball park so it can produce the revenue required for a better team, but getting it right is almost as hard as pitching a no-hitter. Many say the "Fenway Way" can provide a playbook.

A thousand miles east of the Friendly Confines, you will find America's 'other' iconic ballpark.

At 100 years old, Fenway Park has escaped more than one rendezvous with the wrecking ball. It took new owners, significant renovations and some civic concessions to get the park you see today.

"I would call the 'Fenway Model' having an owner who is wealthy enough and committed enough to invest his own fortune in revamping the facility and rebuilding the team," said Steve Wojnar of Save Fenway Park.

How'd they do it? Doug Bailey was a Red Sox media consultant called in to help clean up the mess created by former owners intent on getting public money to improve or even replace the private ballpark.

"Millionaire sports team owners at the public trough for $300 million is not a pretty picture, and there was no way that was going to happen," said Bailey.

In Boston, the city gave the Red Sox air rights to build several thousand new seats above the Green Monster and loosened landmark restrictions to allow more advertising and a bigger jumbotron.

"There's always been advertising in baseball parks, and you really have to keep your eye on the price, and that's the building," said Erika Tarlin of Save Fenway Park.

Here in Chicago, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is pitching politicians to cover some of the Wrigley renovation costs.

ABC 7 has learned that the Ricketts propose paying for 70 percent ($350 million) of the project themselves. The rest - nearly $150 million - they would like to come from bonds issued against the amusement tax.

The Red Sox also control two streets surrounding Fenway. You cannot get in without a ticket. Private vendors have been booted to quieter sides of the ball park. The Cubs want the same deal.

"We all felt it the first year," said Fenway Park vendor David Littlefield. "After that, everybody came back to what they know and love - and that's us. Thank God."

Bostonians paid for the streets, but on game days, the Red Sox essentially rent them back. The team pays the city about $200,000 a year. It sounded like a good deal until people realized that between the revenue generated from the new seats built over the public way plus the concessions sold on the semi-private streets under an exclusive deal, the Red Sox are estimated to generate an extra $45 million.

"Clearly this concourse has been successful, the Monster seats are monstrously successful, but the team also won, and that's what created a lot of the success," said Bailey.

The Cubs claim they need more seats, more ads, more space, and all the money that comes with it to earn World Series titles just like the boys in Beantown.

Veterans of the battle in Boston have one message for Chicagoans.

"You got to call their bluff sometimes, and you've got to make them open their books and show you their numbers," said Don Wilson of Save Fenway Park. "If they want public money, they've got to explain why they need it, and there's no way they'll be able to do that."

The Cubs and Wrigley Field represent the third largest tourist draw in Illinois. One study found the ballpark and team have an economic impact of more than $600 million a year. That is why the owners say they deserve "some" public money.

While Mayor Emanuel has indicated a Wrigley renovation deal is close, the local alderman, Tom Tunney, says work still needs to be done to make sure Wrigley Field does not overwhelm its namesake neighborhood.

(Copyright ©2014 WLS-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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