Where Have All the Cub Fans Gone?

(A full description of the earlier design for the Triangle Building can be found below this open letter regarding the Cubs' current proposal for Wrigley.)

We've heard Tom Ricketts stomp his feet & tell everyone to get out of his way.   Ald. Tunney has given the familiar refrain about parking & security, (surprised he didn't throw in "better schools" for good measure).  We've heard (too much) from the rooftop owners.   Springfield - still sour about the New Comiskey fiasco – won’t even look in this direction.  M-Rahm just wants this mess to go away.   Crane Kenney continues to embarrass himself & insult our intelligence by insisting this is a "historic restoration."  And we've read management-approved, canned quotes from players about "bringing Wrigley into the modern era."  But in all that noise, why haven’t we heard a word from the fans?

Ricketts has done one thing successfully - creating the most apathetic, uninvolved & undemanding fan base possible.  Over the past few years, the third-generation die-hards have quietly been turning in their season tickets.  The knowledgeable, fun, loud, (and sometimes offensive,) regulars that used to pack the park & make game day such a raucously enjoyable experience have disappeared.  In their place, we've found a ballpark full of expense account-toting managers in their striped button-downs, teenage girls posting self-portraits on Facebook, and a few drunken college bros who are confused by the ramp system.  And let's not forget the legions of first-timers still traveling to Wrigley from out-of-state, a bit thrown-off by the lethargic atmosphere they encounter.  But don't worry about them - they'll stop coming soon, too.

At what point did we just stop caring?  At what point did us fans decide that it didn't matter anymore, that we would just let the billionaire's son turn our neighborhood park into his personal ATM machine?  Following Tom Ricketts' proposal to turn Wrigley Field into a flashing, baseball-themed amusement park, the most common response from Cubs fans has been simply one of resignation.  Just a few years ago such short-sighted, insensitive additions to Wrigley would've been met with arms linked & Clubs raised.  The ubiquitous "No Lights!" signs of the 1980s would've reappeared across the neighborhood.  Tribune editorialists would've elbowed each other out of the way over who could be the most outraged.  Fans in modern ballparks like Milwaukee would've snickered into their beer cups saying "wait, you want to be more like us?"  But now, Cub fans just don't have the energy to fight back.  "It could be worse," we say, moving on to other concerns.  Ricketts has trained us into having no expectations for our team, and an even lower standard for its owners.

Tom Ricketts loves to repeat his line that he "just wants to be able to run his business like a business," because he "bought a private business, not a museum."  Spare us the lies.  When you purchased a community institution like the Chicago Cubs, you were never na├»ve enough to think you were buying an Al's Beef franchise.  The Cubs have thrived for so many generations because of the passionate support of their fans.  Professional sports is a give-and-take relationship - Ricketts can't expect to get whatever he wants without repercussions, simply because he bangs his spoon on the table loud enough.  Does Wrigley need a bit of a face-lift?  Definitely.  But the proposed alterations to Wrigley go beyond what is necessary or even tolerable.  They cover up the very exact atmosphere & charm that the Cubs spend so much time promoting.  The renovations gut the very soul of a stadium that has survived so long because of its character, not in spite of it.

Wrigley Field is an incredible asset for the future, not some impediment from the past.  For an organization with such a unique home, we sure haven't heard much in the way of independent thinking.  Everything from the Front Office is about imitating other stadiums, rather than enhancing the one-of-a-kind ballpark we already have.  When it comes to putting fans (& dollar signs) in the seats, Wrigley gives the Cubs a natural competitive advantage over every stadium in America that other teams would kill for.  Despite all the talk of a need for a jumbotron & "modern amenities" to keep up with other stadiums, fans travel across the country to Wrigley precisely because it doesn't include all these modern additions.  For nearly a century now Wrigley has (successfully) operated on the radical premise that fans might come out to a game on a nice afternoon to actually watch baseball, without the contrived distractions & cheap side shows.

The most reliable formula for increasing revenue is quite simple - put a winning product on the field.   Hiring Theo was a step in the right direction - now let him start building a winning lineup.  Stop trying to fool us with the notion that Wrigley needs to produce even more revenue, because more revenue will mean more wins.  Remember 2010?  Our $146 million payroll (3rd highest,) earned us a whopping 75 wins, good for 5th place.  Story wasn't much different the year before, or the year after.  Dollar signs don't equal wins, Tom.

If Ricketts wants to keep shouting unimaginative threats of moving the team to Rosemont or Schaumburg, let him.  Run off to Memphis for all we care.  He’s spitting in the face of the dedicated fans who have kept this hapless team afloat for years, and not for the first time.  There's a healthy fan base right here on the North Side - pockets stuffed with ticket & beer money - just waiting for an organization worth caring about again.  Waiting for an owner who realizes that in the long run a good shortstop is far more valuable than a "branding opportunity," (or 41,000 square feet of them).

Hopefully Ricketts will remember those younger days in the bleachers he loves to tell us stories about.  Hopefully he’ll recognize what an irreplaceable ballpark he has, before there's nothing left of it.

The Triangle Building - A Design for the Future

At the corner of Addison & Clark sits one of the greatest places you could ever watch a game - Chicago's historic Wrigley Field. It has hosted generation after generation of faithful Cubs fans, but the last major renovation took place in 1927. Wrigley is bursting at the seams, and needs some help. This is where the Triangle comes in.

The Triangle Building occupies a site directly adjacent to the existing stadium - just west of the third-base grandstand. Home to a coal-yard when Wrigley was constructed, this site has stood largely vacant for the past 50 years & served mainly as a patchwork parking lot for the stadium. It's proximity offers the quickest way to help relieve some of the stress on Wrigley - if many of the support functions currently housed around the concourse are moved into the Triangle Building, it allows the existing stadium to be used purely for baseball. And it makes Wrigley an even better stadium.

The two lower floors are arranged around the Triangle Atrium - a two-story space that expands inward from from the newly reopened Seminary Avenue. A wide staircase leads fans up to the Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame - a tribute to the team, the players, and us fans whose dedication to a life of anguish borders on insanity at times. Leaving the Hall fans pass through the spacious Cubs Pro Shop where they can "own a piece of history," or something like that. (Yeah, it sounds cheesy. But face it, the team has to make money to win ... or, hmm well, at least it can't hurt our chances.) These spaces are accessible from both Clark Street and Seminary Avenue throughout the year, while on gamedays the Clark Street entrance is closed making this entire area part of the stadium - fans are free to come and go as if it were part of the concourse. On the ground floor, new ticket windows for the stadium occupy the "point" of the Triangle near the current stadium entrance.

Greatly improved offices for the Cubs management staff are spread throughout the second and third floors - bridged directly to the stadium allowing easy access back-and-forth during the game for employees. Our major league team is currently run out of some cubicles crammed into space behind the marquee, and a few temporary trailers in the parking lot. Seriously. This is no way to run a team - the employees team deserve the same great experience that fans find inside Wrigley everyday.

The rooftop is for the fan. Covered with a wide-open terrace, it is ringed with food & beer carts during games & available for events throughout the year. The terrace is connected directly to the stadium's upper deck through the existing dormers, making it an extension of the concourse for fans. It's height & location offer clear views down Clark Street towards the Loop.

The entire Triangle Building is situated roughly 35' away from the existing stadium - restoring the city street grid along Seminary Avenue. On gamedays, this street is gated off & treated as an extension of the stadium concourse - similar to Boston's Yawkey Way. The rest of the year Seminary Avenue is open as a pedestrian street. It offers a much-needed venue for public gatherings, and helps handle the crush of fans leaving the main gate after games.

The Tribune Company had loose plans to construct a glorified parking garage on the Triangle site when they owned the team. A site along Grace Street now offers a better location for parking & a bus terminal, which means the Triangle can - and should - be used for something much better. It can improve the area for everyone with a stake in the Cubs - better facilities for the team, a better experience for fans, and a better neighbor for Lakeview.

Over the next few weeks I'll try to expand on the design - it deserves a much deeper explanation of each of the floor plans, the style of the elevations, and what I think a building like this could accomplish. Some things here could have been done better, others will likely be built much worse by the Cubs someday. But at least this design offers a start - a point of reference for discussing what the Triangle should become. Check out the design, and let me know what you think!

All of us fans deserve a better Wrigley. Just maybe it'll help us win a few more games, too ...

For The Team ...

The Triangle Building is a sticky subject, no doubt about it. If building it was an easy task, we would have seen something take shape on that unevenly-paved lot a long time ago. To be successful, any use of this site must satisfy three distinct stakeholders - the team, it fans, and Wrigley's neighbors. Since this all begins with the team, let's start with them ...

It's well-known that the Cubs have one of the smallest front offices in baseball. But to see the facilities they are trying to manage a team from is shocking - not a single person reading this page works at a smaller desk than most of our staff. And those are the lucky ones - those who are actually inside Wrigley. Most of the staff is working from "temporary" trailers along the outside of the stadium. Not really the most efficient setup. We always seem willing to throw money at risky veteran outfielders - how about a little extra towards Jerry in accounting and Sarah in group ticket sales? This design includes expansive windows offering natural light & an outdoor view from almost every desk, while projecting solar shades protect the west facade from excessive heat. All of the Cubs' employees deserve the same great day-to-day experience as fans walking into the Friendly Confines.

The players could use an upgrade, too. Space for a sports medicine facility on the third floor would be a great amenity based on our habit of burning up young pitchers. Spacious conference rooms overlooking Marquee Plaza would be a much more inviting location for team meetings. Underground batting cages & training areas could help bring Wrigley up to the par with other modern stadiums. Better training, better players.

To pay for all this, obviously the Cubs need a revenue source. The Triangle Building can bring truckloads of money to Wrigley year-round, and it can do it without compromising our great stadium by propping up more glowing signs Toyota billboards or gradually covering every brick wall with financial logos. Cubs fans would stream into the Hall of Fame 12 months a year to see Harry's glasses & Ryno's game-worn jerseys. Carefully combining this with a well-managed Pro Shop could be a goldmine for the team - a true destination in itself along the lines of the bookstore / castle on Notre Dame's campus. Both the Triangle Atrium & the rooftop terrace can be used as private event venues year-round, bringing crowds of people to Wrigleyville long after the Cubs have stopped playing. Late afternoon company summer party overlooking the marquee while the Cubs are out of town? I'll be there.

Of the three groups involved in the Triangle, the Cubs are the only one that can really get the ball rolling. And with yet another disappointing season winding down, why not bring some excitement and buzz back to the area? Design intelligently, listen to feedback from your employees, fans, and neighbors, and let's finally put this once-in-a-lifetime site to use!

For The FAN ...

Perhaps the group that truly deserves a well-designed Triangle Building the most is us, the fan. Cub fans have supported this team through decades of disappointment. They've packed Wrigley to watch a below-par product on the field, making one of the worst-performing teams in baseball also one of the most profitable. While obviously the team has to get their money's worth out of this site, the Triangle presents a perfect chance to give back to the fans and make the gameday experience even better.

Placing the Triangle Building far enough away from the stadium to create an outdoor concourse would be an enormous improvement to Wrigley. Boston's Yawkey Way & Camden's Eutaw Street are the most obvious examples of how successful this public / private arrangement can be. Fans stream in through these gates, arriving earlier to the game because there is simply more to arrive for. A spacious Seminary Avenue lined with gameday concessions sounds a bit more attractive than the current overcrowded concourses. Fill the new street with some interesting paving - maybe even include a nice Billy Goat carving for all of us to stomp on our way into the stadium.

The new Seminary Avenue gates would make entering the stadium easier, while an expanded Marquee Plaza at Clark & Addison would help relieve the crush of fans spilling out after games. This design also explores the option of a new parking structure & transportation center one block north of Wrigley - at Grace Street. While this could hold more than enough spaces to make up for those lost on the Triangle site, a huge influx of cars to Wrigleyville isn't going to solve much. More importantly it could serve as a new bus terminal for stadium shuttles to remote parking lots a few miles west. Anyone who has braved that 6-foot sidewalk between the first base wall & a line of buses along Addison knows there must be a better way to get fans home after the game.

Inside the Cubs Hall of Fame, we could really have some fun. Save a central room for our upcoming World Series trophy. Set up a room to match the manual centerfield scoreboard & let sugar-crazed kids run around rearranging the numbers from behind the wall. Build a replica of Harry's spacious WGN booth & let karaoke fans make their own attempt at singing The Stretch. (Based on most of my college friends, I apologize in advance for the terrible results an idea like that could have.) The Cubs sure have a unique and definitely entertaining history. Our Hall of Fame should be no different.

The upper deck Smirnoff Patio - on the roof behind home plate - was an awesome idea. Why did we stop there? Building out more patios along the length of the roof would create a true concourse for the upper deck, rather than the 4 or 5 beer carts hidden up there right now. Light steel-truss bridges from the existing dormers to the Triangle Building would make it's expansive rooftop terrace an integrated part of the stadium. Fans would scramble to meet up with friends and grab a burger and a beer up there before the game, with Wrigley to your back and an unobstructed view down Clark Street in front of your eyes. Extensive planter boxes could add color and texture to the roof, while also serving as benches for hundreds of hungry fans. On the practical end, it would give fans bathrooms - lots more bathrooms. But those infamous urinal troughs .. they stay.

A well-done Triangle Building could be a fountain of goodwill with fans. Entertainment for the kids, improved facilities for us big kids, and a nice spot to hang out before the game. Really for us, it's the space above and around the building holds the most hope. Let the team put the inside to use and find ways to win a few more games. In the meantime, we're just looking to have a good beer on the roof with some friends.

For Wrigleyville ...

When the Cubs negotiated a deal to expand the outfield bleachers, it included a provision that they develop the Triangle parcel. Based on what I saw the last time I was there - yesterday - that hasn't exactly happened. I'm not saying the team should bend over for people living across the street - that's like complaining about noise when you move in next to an airport. But part of what makes Wrigley so great is the way it's nestled into the neighborhood, something that was lost in the era of suburban mega-stadium. Let's be good neighbors.

A combination of parking & a bus terminal at the Grace Street location could reduce some of the headaches caused by fans arriving at & leaving games. Pulling the shuttle buses of Addison is just common sense - they're not exactly a delicate feature there in the crowd of fans. A Grace Street station would create some order, and make the whole process much more efficient while still being only a 2 minute walk from the stadium gate.

Restoring the city street grid & reopening Seminary Avenue gives the street back to the neighborhood, creating a pedestrian route that is currently blocked by parking fences. The area around Wrigley lacks any true public open space - both this block and the bowtie Marquee Plaza could be used throughout the year for neighborhood events. Put up a Christmas Tree in the winter, bring in a farmers market when the team is out of town, hold a sidewalk chalk art festival along Seminary Avenue & make this new Wrigleyville Block Party an annual event in some way.

Perhaps one of the greatest things that can be done with this block is to simply finish it - to do anything with it. The Triangle Building can finally complete the block and make it feel like less of a seasonal construction site. Yeah a skating rink is nice, but really any version of the Triangle Building is better than the patchwork of parking lots that currently cover the site. This block is the heart of Wrigleyville - the Triangle Building could be a nice jewel to complement the baseball cathedral next door.