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CHICAGO-Wrigley Field, one of the last remaining classic ballparks that now serves as a model for some of the retro-looking stadiums being built by other major-league teams, could be getting a major new look. An renovation plan announced by the Chicago Cubs Monday that reportedly will cost $11 million includes 2,100 additional bleacher seats, which would overhang sidewalks on Waveland and Sheffield Avenues behind the current exterior walls, as well as a restaurant in dead-center field.

In 2003 at the earliest, a car wash and hot dog stand on Clark Street on the western edge of the 7.7-acre ballpark site could be razed to make way for a parking garage, Cubs Hall of Fame, restaurant and additional concession space. The current commercial uses occupy 5,600 sf in the two buildings.

The 87-year-old ballpark with ivy-covered outfield walls has seen relatively few changes over the years, although the addition of lights in August 1988 was drastic and controversial. Threatened by the potential loss of post-season games, the Cubs became the last team to play night home games that year. About the same time, a new press box was installed in the back of the upper deck behind home plate.

The addition of the bleacher seats next year would increase Wrigley Field’s capacity to 39,600, still the smallest in the major leagues except for Boston’s Fenway Park, the only older major-league ballpark and another classic stadium built to fit the local geography that existed in their neighborhoods in the 1910s. However, the renovation would hurt the rooftop views of apartment and condominium dwellers and their guests in buildings on Waveland and Sheffield avenues, a Sammy Sosa home-run shot from the plate.

“These projects will greatly improve amenities for our fans, while improving our ability to compete with the increasing number of teams playing in modern facilities,” says Cubs executive vice president for business operations Mark McGuire. “We’re committed to Wrigley Field, and we’re trying as hard as we can to extend the life of Wrigley Field and to compete.”

Although it has not suffered from any of the deferred maintenance issues that resulted in the replacement of the crosstown rival White Sox Comiskey Park, there was talk as far back as the 1980s of a possible Cubs move to the northwest suburban Elk Grove Village in order to get a lighted ballpark. The lights issue raised vocal opposition from various groups in the Lakeview area before the Cubs succeeded in getting city council permission to play 18 nights games a season.

Now, those community groups could be galvanized again, as the Cubs also are seeking permission to play up to 30 night games a year. “We need additional night games for scheduling flexibility and to improve attendance primarily on spring and fall weekdays when children are in school,” McGuire says. “We believe night game operations have worked well for the past 13-1/2 seasons and we look forward to discussing our plans with the community.”

Despite community protests at the time, property values in Wrigleyville have exploded since 1988. For instance, the price of multifamily buildings have increased from $29,509 per unit to $114,792 per unit, a rate of increase of 11.4% a year.

City council approval also appears promising.

“The mayor was very supportive of all of our plans,” McGuire says. “All he asked of us was not to screw up this place.”

The cost of the renovations nearly match the Cook County assessor’s office’s $11.5-million market value of the ballpark and adjoining property.

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