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Opening Day at Wrigley Field: a designer’s view

Take a behind-the-scenes walk through the Chicago Cubs home field campus that you haven’t seen

By Adam Szajner

Designing for the historic update and campus expansion of Chicago’s famed Wrigley Field has consumed my day to day work life for the past three years, and I would be hard pressed to imagine a more challenging and rewarding experience. As thousands flocked to Wrigley’s gates on opening night, their fan experience was different than ever before. Seeing such a complex and remarkable development come to life on opening night was an incredible experience, one that will stay with me throughout my career.

While enhancements and preservation of the historic ballpark have garnered most of the project’s media attention, some of the most exciting and surprising aspects of this project lie just outside the friendly confines; some are even underground. There’s a reason for that. The Cubs organization’s needs (clubhouse, training facility, commissary, offices, hospitality) are 21st Century, but the beloved ballpark itself is a protected landmark. Fitting these complex pieces and expansive program into Wrigley’s existing footprint was a near impossibility. We challenged ourselves to provide the Cubs organization with an innovative solution utilizing the space around the friendly confines rather than inside of them.

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Ultimately, the updated Wrigley campus is geared toward an enhanced fan experience. I’d like to walk you through the project as fans did on opening night, talk about what’s new, and let you in on a few key features that aren’t visible to Wrigley’s visitors.

Area: The Park at Wrigley Field

What’s new: A new outdoor community plaza that Chicagoans can enjoy throughout the entire year. During the season, the Park at Wrigley functions as a “town square” for fans coming or going to games. Located directly adjacent to Wrigley’s west border, the Park at Wrigley feeds into the ballpark’s new West Gate entrance. To the north, the plaza is bordered by the Cubs new office building, which also houses new retail spaces and a future tavern on the ground level. The Park’s family-friendly public space features a splashpad, a stage-like plinth for hosting small concerts programmed by the Old Town School of Folk Music, and an expansive grassy area for relaxation and congregation. A 1,200-square-foot video screen on the Office Building’s south façade will screen movies in the park from the Music Box Theatre throughout the summer. Food and craft beer tastings are in the works as is a farmers’ market. Take a closer look at what’s planned for this new venue here.

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What you don’t see: Deep below the Park at Wrigley you’ll find … the Cubs. The team’s new state-of-the-art clubhouse, which debuted last season, sits below the Park at Wrigley as an extension of the office building’s lower levels. As one of the largest clubhouses in Major League Baseball, the facility was designed to help players stay in top physical form, physically and mentally, and features additional amenity spaces for fitness, conditioning, physical therapy, dining, lounging, and media access.

How we did it: The Park at Wrigley replaces what used to be a dusty parking lot. With extensive waterproofing and stormwater management systems, the Park acts as a green roof to the basement below. The layers of the Park were built up above the basement “roof” to provide the various amenities open to the public. As fans enter the Park on their way to the West Gate, they are passing directly over the clubhouse of their beloved Chicago Cubs.

Area: West Gate

What’s new: New exterior stairs were added to the ballpark’s west exterior façade that connects the Park at Wrigley and fans entering from Clark Street to the various levels of the ballpark. Providing faster, more efficient access to and from the ballpark has been a top priority throughout the renovation. The West Gate was designed to respect the historic nature of the restored façade of Wrigley Field and provide a transition from the newly constructed park area to the historic ballpark. Ornamental steel elements designed on the West Gate were carried throughout portions of the plaza and office building designs.

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What you don’t see: Below the West Gate lies a secondary connection to the ballpark. Tunnels link the Cubs new clubhouse, player facility, and new batting cages beneath the main concourse, ultimately ending at the home dugout.

Area: Wrigley Field Office Building

What’s new: This spring, the organization will relocate from the Mueller Building across Waveland Avenue and into its new office building that overlooks the Park at Wrigley. It will be oriented toward Wrigley with a 6th floor lounge and expansive outdoor terrace, providing aerial views of the ballpark, plaza, and city skyline to the south. New first floor retail spaces include a Cubs flagship store, Starbucks Reserve coffee bar, and a future tavern that opens to the plaza. A conference center on the building’s second level can host to a variety of events.

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What you don’t see: The basement below the office building houses Wrigley Field’s main commissary, much-needed storage facilities, and operations spaces for Cubs staff members. Cubs’ ownership and general management staff offices are located on the building’s upper floors.

Area: Wrigley Field

What’s new: The ornamental façade facing Addison Street has been restored to its 1930s wrought iron glory for the 2017 season. Inside, four new concession stands debut this season—one of which features pizza from its own pizza baking kitchen.

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During the season, the Park at Wrigley functions as a “town square” for fans coming or going to games.

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