CHICAGO Chicago on Wednesday approved a $500 million proposed renovation of Wrigley Field, the storied home of the Chicago Cubs, which will add luxury boxes, a nearby hotel and eventually a jumbo outfield electronic sign to the 99-year-old baseball venue.
The privately financed proposal calls for a $300 million renovation of the park itself and $200 million for improvements outside the park, including the hotel.
Famous for its ivy-covered outfield walls, hand-operated scoreboard, and urban location where home run balls sometimes drop onto a residential street, Wrigley Field is a top tourist attraction and has been declared a city landmark.
Approval by the Chicago City Council on Wednesday came after months of tortured negotiations between the Ricketts family - which has owned the team since 2009 - and city officials including Mayor Rahm Emanuel. The park is located in a densely populated and affluent neighborhood.
At one point in May, Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts was so frustrated with the negotiations that he threatened to take the team out of Chicago if he did not obtain the outfield signs for advertising.
The upgrades also include luxury boxes for fans and corporations, new bullpens for the teams and more space for concessions.
Some owners of buildings across the street from Wrigley, who sell tickets to watch games from their rooftops, have objected to the renovation because new outfield signs could obscure their views.
Before construction can begin, the Cubs franchise must resolve the threat of a legal challenge from the rooftop club owners, said Julian Green, a spokesman for the Cubs. Another unresolved issue is a proposed pedestrian bridge from the hotel.
Ricketts has agreed not to put up the outfield signs for 10 years, on condition that the rooftop owners do not sue and the city strictly enforces its laws on rooftop viewing, such as limits on the capacity of the rooftops, Green said.
"Thanks to his efforts we are one big step closer to a major investment in one of the top tourist destinations in the state and a major economic engine for Chicago," Green said, referring to Emanuel.
Emanuel said he thought the proposal struck "the perfect balance" between the interests of the neighborhood and those of the team, and praised the Cubs ownership for investing in the community.
"They actually stepped up in the way the prior ownership never had stepped up," Emanuel said, referring to the Chicago Tribune, which owned the team before Ricketts.
The Cubs started playing at Wrigley in 1916 and have not won a World Series since 1908, the longest championship drought in Major League Baseball.
Attendance at the park, which holds 41,100, has fallen to 12th place from 6th place among all Major League clubs over the last 10 years, according to league data. Crowds at home games this year have averaged 33,000, down from an average of 37,000 in 2003.
The Cubs are currently in fourth place of five teams in the National League Central Division, with a losing record.
A lurid reminder of the Cubs' record was sent to Ricketts in April - a goat's head in a box. Chicago legend says that a bar owner cursed the Cubs in 1945 when his pet goat was not allowed into Wrigley during the team's last failed trip to the World Series.
(Editing by Greg McCune, Matthew Lewis and Carol Bishopric)