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WRIGLEY FIELD, Chicago - Changing It's Landmark Status Could Have Wide-Ranging Ramifications!


Wrigley Field Historic Scoreboard, Chicago IL - 09-27-2003

In 2004, the Landmarks Committee of the Chicago City Council granted Landmark Status for many elements of Chicago's historic home of the Cubs, Wrigley Field, on the corner of Addison and Clark Streets on the North Side.  The status, granted over opposition of owners the Chicago Tribune Company, in effect protected the outfield wall ivy, the center field scoreboard, the famous Wrigley Field Sign, and certain other elements of the ballpark.

It did not prevent, however, the owners from adding premium-priced home plate and dugout box seats beginning in 2005, a whole new left field and right field bleachers, with the addition of 1,790 seats, in 2006, or vastly more advertising signage visible from the seats and playing field, and in the concourses.  The status, however, did give oversight to the City of Chicago for the expansion designs, and assured that these expansions would be tasteful, and in keeping with the character of the ballpark, and the concerns of the neighboring Lakeview community.

New Tribune Company Owner, Real Estate Investor Sam Zell, now wants a rollback of landmark status for the old ball field - so potential new owners will not be hampered should they chose to renovate it, or, in a very controversial idea being floated in Chicago, re-name Wrigley Field itself.  His proposals include selling Wrigley to a state agency, and sell the baseball team separately. 

There is also talk of negotiating an increase in the number of night baseball games, and non-baseball events, like rock concerts, while the landmark status reversal is being considered.  The goal, presumably, would be to maximize his return on a sale of the Chicago Cubs, and pay down the huge amount of debt he acquired when he purchased and took private the Chicago Tribune Company in 2007.

Should the city loosen landmark restrictions on construction at and use of Wrigley Field, other large property owners across the city could be emboldened to appeal for reversal landmark status on their own properties, a concern voiced by Chicago Tribune columnist Blair Kamin in her commentary in today's Tribune.  Across the City of Chicago, there are 259 individual landmark structures, and 49 separate landmark districts.  Together, the encompass more than 9,000 designated landmark properties.

In 1987, the Chicago City Council took the then-unheard of step of stripping the status of Historic Landmark from the McCarthy Building, at the Northeast Corner of Washington and Dearborn Streets.  This classic 1871 Italian Renaissance-influenced structure was demolished in 1990, with plans of building a parking garage for the still-yet-to-be-completed office and retail development on Loop Block 37, across the street from the State Street Marshall Fields Building - itself another Historic Chicago Landmark.  The uproar here over the building's demolition has made the city gun shy from making such a move since.

Kamin, and others, fear that granting Zell his request could generate similar landmark reversal requests from other owners of historic structures and properties in historic districts all over Chicago.   The whole landmark designation process could then be undermined.

Proponents of the relaxing of landmark status contend new owners would respect the rich history of Wrigley Field in their remodeling plans.  Critics, however, point to a similar variance granted to Chicago's Soldier Field, home of the Chicago Bears NFL Team.  That renovation resulted in an ultra-modern stadium structure rising, and dwarfing, the scale of Soldier Field's original historic columns.  Indeed, the U.S. Government took Soldier Field off of its list of National Historic Landmarks in 2006, because of the radical renovation.

In the opinion of many wanting to preserve Chicago's historic treasures, and its past, granting special treatment to Zell and the Tribune Company could endanger more than just the ballpark.  It could impact dozens of other historic properties all over Chicago.

See Blair Kamin's Commentary in today's Chicago Tribune, link above.


Posted: Monday, March 03, 2008 10:27 PM by Dean's Team


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