First phase of Wrigley Field renovation a job (mostly) well done

Sheffield and Waveland avenues adjacent to Wrigley Field were re-opened to traffic Monday for the first time this season.

Unlike opening day, the grand opening of the left field bleachers, the grand opening of the right field bleachers or the grand opening of the Hot Doug’s stand, there was no fanfare or news conferences.

It was just a couple of newly-paved, pothole-free blocks outside the left and right field bleachers, a few feet narrower because of the renovation project that brought the bleachers back out over the streets.

Fans paid little attention to the changes Thursday night as they walked from the Addison Street L stop down Sheffield. The same peanut vendor was sitting at his usual spot, and T-shirt sellers were busy hawking their wares, including some tasteless shirts mocking Jay Cutler and Patrick Kane. It was business as usual in Wrigleyville, where making a buck off Cubs’ fans is a tradition that never will end.

The first phase of the ballpark renovation is pretty much done, and Wrigley Field is almost back to normal, or at least the new normal in the first year of the video era. The project hasn’t gone as smoothly as hoped, with delays and plumbing issues from opening day. But comparing the renderings released last year to the final results, it turned out exactly the way it was envisioned.

The street changes had no effect on fans. They’re still shut down about an hour before and after games to relieve congestion, the same as it used to be before the renovation.

The only ones who really can complain are neighbors who saw the parking lanes removed, and no one feels sorry for people who move into a congested area and whine about the parking.

The next big phase is the completion of the spacious underground home clubhouse on the west side of the park, and the so-called Triangle building.

Support columns are in place and steel frames are being erected, and the clubhouse still is targeted to be ready for next opening day. The Triangle, where the Cubs’ offices will be moved, is slated to be finished by late 2016.

“When we move in there, I don’t know,” Cubs spokesman Julian Green said.

There has been no decision on closing down Waveland and Sheffield during games for street fests as has been done a few times in the past. Construction issues have made it impossible this year.

The Cubs have said previously they would like to make the street parties a regular occurrence, as the Red Sox do outside Fenway Park on game days. But Green said nothing is planned for the immediate future.

Having seen the atmosphere outside Fenway, I hope they get their way. Not everyone wants to take their kids into a crowded bar before games, and the only other option is sitting inside the ballpark waiting for the game to start.

All in all, the Cubs deserve good marks for the renovation.

Take a bow, Chairman Tom Ricketts.

The video board isn’t perfect, but the Cubs have refrained from the truly obnoxious stuff like “Make Some Noise,” or having cheerleaders on top of dugouts. And unless I’m mistaken, Harry Belafonte’s “Daaaay-o” chant that is a staple in most ballparks for reasons unknown has not been played.

As for the noise issue, the Cubs insist it’s all in the ear of the beholder. Green said complaints have “been reduced significantly since opening day,” when music was first played from the video board.

But that doesn’t mean the problem’s fixed. It’s still too loud much of the time, as many fans and people who work there, including the Giants’ announcers, can attest.

Green said the challenge is between giving fans what they want and appeasing the neighbors.

“On one hand you have fans in the ballpark who suggest they can’t hear it, while outside the ballpark fans who say that the clarity is crystal clear on their doorstep,” he said. “We’re continuing to work to strike that balance.”

I’ve heard fans say they can’t understand what the players in the videos are saying, but not that they can’t hear it.

Green pointed to the fact that it’s a three-acre ballpark in a neighborhood with houses 150-feet away, and of course not everyone is going to be happy.

“If 2 million people came to your house every year there’s going to be some impact on your next door neighbor,” he said.

True, but that doesn’t mean you still have to keep blasting music after midnight, as they did during the rain-delayed game Tuesday. If there’s no walk-up music, Cubs players can adjust.

Hopefully the Cubs can figure out how to be good neighbors and also give their fans a pleasant experience. It’s possible.

The battle of Wrigleyville is over, but if this Cubs’ magical season continues, everyone wins.

 



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