Crane Kenney Discusses the Latest Issues with the Wrigley Field Restoration

Crane Kenney joined David Kaplan and David Haugh on Thursday morning during the Kap & Haugh Show on 87.7 The Game. The President of Business Operations for the Chicago Cubs answered several questions about the Cubs new plans for Wrigley Field, the recent issues with Mayor’s office and the public relations issues the team has had in recent months.

On what happened with the communication between the team and the Mayor’s office on the changes to the Wrigley Field plan that were announced on Tuesday

“I think if you remember from our presentation, we started by talking about things that required landmark commission approval and things that didn’t,” Kenney said. “The first thing that we talked about for instance was the clubhouse. The clubhouse, now, is no longer going to be on the Wrigley side of the street. We are going to move the clubhouse, to expand it, from the original design across the plaza and now build it underneath what will be the top floor of the plaza in a bi-level basement. That doesn’t require Landmarks Commission approval. It doesn’t touch a landmark feature. We showed those drawings to the Landmarks Commission as they were being finished, but it really isn’t something that will go to the Landmarks Commission for approval. They obviously sign-off on things all of the time with us, it’s kinda a regular thing. As it relates to the bullpens, which seems to be the topic of the day, the bullpens themselves are not a landmarked feature. The rubber and the plate that make up the bullpens can be moved without landmark approval. The doors to the bullpen and the ivy are landmark features. So if you want to think of Wrigley Field as a combination of things, some elements which aren’t landmarked and some that are. The marquee, the original scoreboard, the slope of the bleachers, which we know has been a big topic, and the ivy on the outfield walls are clearly landmark features. As it convenes to our players, the goal was to enlarge the double doors, we’ll call them the Under Armour doors because that is how our fans refer to them, and making them a little larger for our players to get a better view of the field. That is the question really. Should we enlarge the doors into the bullpens, not whether we can move them, we obviously have the right to move the bullpens. We are happy to work with Landmarks if they want to take another look at the doors to see whether that’s consistent with our wonderful ballpark. Have been engaged with them, even this morning, on that topic and hope to put it to bed soon.”

On why the Mayor may not have had a full understanding of the Cubs plan and if he understands why people would look at this and ask, ‘Why at this stage of the process would the Mayor get in front of a microphone and be surprised about anything?’

“I don’t think the Mayor is uninformed,” Kenney said. “I think the process with Landmarks has always been an iterative one. If you look back to the changes to the ballpark since we were landmarked. Going back to ‘04, we added the new dugout box seats and went through a series of design reviews with Landmarks. Then in ’05 we did the right field bullpen, again moving into the foul territory a little bit more. In ’08 we did the left field bullpen. Last year we did another new row. It’s an iterative process. We’ve spent a lot of time with landmarks. Months and months working on the bleacher expansion so the new seating arrangement, the signage, all of the elements, the terraces, the new concession facilities and really spec that with that department given the sensitivity around the slope of the bleachers. To be honest it’s our responsibility to make sure they are comfortable with the bullpen doors. And while they were in some earlier drawings, they weren’t a focus and really it’s up to us to make sure Landmarks is comfortable with what we are doing. They are here to protect the ballpark, like we are. Ultimately if they were surprised the bullpen doors were larger then we need to sit down with them and work some more. And that conversation started today. It’s not critical to our project as you can imagine that the bullpen doors be as large as we want them to be. If ultimately the city believes they should be in the condition they are today we will move forward on that basis.”

On why the Cubs cannot start the clubhouse now if it is so important to the players and workout the rest of the issues with the rooftops, the city, the signs at a later time so the players can have what they need

“That’s the goal, to get started as soon as we can. That is absolutely job one for us,” Kenney explained. “To start digging the plaza to create this new 30,000 square foot clubhouse. We don’t want to have a moment of delay and that’s why we reached out yesterday to Landmarks to say ‘Hey, if you want to take a relook at the outfield doors, we will go as far as to take them off the table.’ If making a double door into a triple door is difficult we will go to a double door because we want to get started. We don’t want a single moment of delay. While we think that giving our players a greater view of the game would be adventitious, it is not required and let’s get started.”

On if he took what Mayor Emanuel said on Wednesday if there was no way the Cubs would meet with the Landmarks Commission on June 5, and is the team working on other ways to ensure they are ordering steel as early as June 6

“The calendar is for the Mayor to control. We are not in charge of that. All we can do is react to the request from the Landmarks department. There were calls yesterday. There were calls this morning,” Kenney said. “We’ve spent a lot of time. Months and months of time with them in particular around the expansion of the bleachers. It seems like the topic of the day is the size of the bullpen doors and we will literally not stop working until they are comfortable with the size of the bullpen doors, including not changing them. If we want to leave the bullpen doors exactly as they are today, the Under Armour doors, double-wide, we will leave them as a double-wide. We do want to change the material from solid steel to chain-link or something that is transparent so our players have a view of the game. We are willing to work around the clock to make sure that is not an issue to get started. But the calendar is the Mayor’s calendar. We are beholden to the city. They have been great partners throughout this entire process I want to say. And Landmarks has been nothing but constructive. This is a big undertaking with an important feature in an iconic ballpark and they are very, very good at their jobs. I just want to point out we go through some interesting times. Just a couple of years ago we rebuilt the back of the scoreboard, I don’t know if you all recall. The steel had started to erode to the point where it was really getting pretty ugly out there. We had to fabricate rivets. Today’s steel doesn’t really get attached with rivets but it was an important feature to the Landmarks department that we have a riveted back of our scoreboard that faces the El tracks. We manufactured something that looks like rivets. We had to find the exact paint color of the original scoreboard. So, these are hoops we want to jump through because it maintains Wrigley in the condition that everybody loves so much and it is collaborative. It is not in any way really an antagonistic situation. It happens every year. There is something that we want to do to the ballpark every year that requires Landmarks approval and they’ve been great partners helping us move it forward. We think that will happen here too.”

On if the courts look at the contract through arbitration with the rooftops and decide the Cubs cannot make the necessary changes to Wrigley Field, at that point would the team finally say it’s time to move

“This came up on Tuesday. Tom and the family have been very clear about this. Our No. 1 priority is to play baseball at Wrigley Field,” Kenney said. “We are committed to it obviously we’ve spent years working hard to make sure we can play here. If on the other hand the court says ‘You don’t really have control of your ballpark as you believe you do’ in terms of producing revenue in the outfield, an important place for us to remain competitive, we are going to have to look at our options. What we have promised the city is that our first look would be here, in the City of Chicago, working with the Mayor to find a new location. We don’t think it will come to that. Our lawyers, who’ve been studying these contracts, and all of the other claims that may come our way, feel very confident that it won’t come to that. If it did, our first goal would be to stay here, then it would be somewhere in the city.”

On why the discussions the Cubs are having now did not take place before the press conferences to announce the new plans. Why weren’t all of the ‘I’s dotted and ‘T’s crossed?

“Ultimately it falls on us. If we weren’t as explicit in the earlier documents that we shared with Landmarks and the city on the size of the bullpen doors, then that’s our obligation to make sure they are comfortable. We will take responsibility for sharing more information with them,” Kenney said. “You asked how did we get here. When were landmarked, over our opposition 10 years ago, we were worried about these kinds of things. At that time Andy MacPhail testified. I brought Janet Marie Smith in, the noted historic architect who was renovating Fenway Park at the time, has now moved onto Dodger Stadium and done some work at the Rose Bowl, she came in an testified and said these ballparks need to evolve, they need to change over time. We had lost so many great fields. At the time Tiger Stadium had come down and Comiskey was down. If these ballparks don’t evolve they die. And what we were assured when we were landmarked in ’04 is that we would be allowed to evolve. That only specific features would be designated for review and that other than those features we would be able to move the ballpark forward. And by in large that has happened. I would say the city has lived up to that. There have been lots of changes, new marketing assets, including stickers that are on our doors we don’t paint them because that would be a landmark issue so we apply stickers to put Under Armour on the doors and do some other things. They’ve worked with us and will continue to work with us. So, how did we get here? This started when we got landmarked. It wasn’t something we sought. It was something we opposed but it has been a process we live with and so far it’s worked out and we feel it will work out in this case too.”

On how the Cubs get past the public relations issues from the Ron Santo Card to the cake to the White Sox-Comiskey Park picture on the outer wall to the issues with the Mayor’s office

“Bottom line is we’ve got to do a better job,” Kenney said. “There’s not better answer than that. The mistagging of a mural that was put on the outfield walls, that’s on us. We didn’t do the amount of research that was required to perfect those and there’s no other answer than we need to do a better job.”

On any chance of a resolution with the rooftops before the possible meeting with the Landmarks Commission on June 5 and what part of the contract makes him feel the Cubs are on solid legal ground

“We never say never. I think we’ve been really patient. I think a number of people have maligned our patience with the rooftop owners and trying to reach resolution. We’ve explored, I would think, every opportunity including acquiring their buildings at fair prices, restructuring our contract and all sorts of other things. At some point the calendar dictates our hand and we are at the stage now that in order to be prepared to work this coming off-season on Wrigley Field, we have to start making some commitments, orders on steel and other things. The clock has expired, at the moment, on renovations for this fall if we continue to negotiate with the rooftops and say we will suspend the project until we reach conclusion. I never say never but we are moving forward with a different plan which is, as I said at the press conference, for us at the beginning what we said to the rooftops in our very first meeting was this is a math problem for us. There is no animosity toward the rooftops. We have a project that has to be 100 percent internally financed. It is unlike all of the other facilities that are getting built these days. And so to do that we need to raise enough revenue to both finance the ballpark renovations and support the team. If we can generate more resources in a relationship with the rooftops we will choose that. If we can, instead, generate more resources by constructing seats and terraces and signs on our side of the street then we will do that. At the moment it’s only option ‘B’ that is available to us. That’s why we are moving forward. On the contract, I think some resourceful reporters have found their way to get hands on it and published what it says. We are very confident in our position. Nothing in the contract prohibits and expansion of the field. In fact, the contract actually anticipated further expansion of Wrigley Field. There’s a provision that says quite clearly, ‘Any expansion of the bleachers approved by the city shall be permitted.’ We have an expansion of the bleachers in front of us. We hope to get approval from the city and then move forward.

On if he truly believes this renovation will get done

“Well, Kap, listen it has been seven years and I’ve never lost faith and I feel like we are closer than ever,” Kenney said. “If you go back to … I remember the day I got a phone call that said the Department of Justice was in my lobby and wanted to talk to me about wire taps with Governor Blagojevich that was our first attempt at saving Wrigley Field. That was an interesting day and you start to say, ‘Wow, what is going to happen with this.’ So, we’ve seen one governor come and go. We’ve got a different mayor. There’s different ownership with the Cubs. Our pursuit of the saving of Wrigley Field began when concrete fell in 2004. We’ve been after it ever since and it’s been an interesting path with lots of personalities involved. We here at the club never lost faith that we will get it done. I tell you what, with this ownership and this Mayor we couldn’t be more confident we’ll get this done. It’s been a great partnership with the city. They’ve been doing a lot, a lot for us to help us finance this ourselves. So, no, never lost a moment thinking we were not going to get it done and I feel like we are closer than ever.

On the chances the Landmarks Commission approves the plans

“I can’t speak for the commission. Our job is to supply them with the information they need to conclude that this is a historic restoration. One that is consistent with the fabric of Wrigley Field. That they are the only judges on whether or not we’ve met the standard. We do our best to really cherish and protect those things that make Wrigley so special. And yet, our other obligation is to win and to win you need resources and we compete with every team in our division plays in a ballpark built in the year 2000 or later. Every team in our division plays in a ballpark built with public money. We play in a 100-year facility with no public resources. So we sort of have to do a better effort than the rest of them. We feel like we are good custodians. The Ricketts family feels extremely sensitive to the changes they are making that they are consistent. We’ve engaged with, what we think, is the best historic architect around to make sure we are living up to those standards. You are asking me will this pass or not, that’s really not for me to say.”

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