CUBS fans are raising the roof over a plan to raise the bleachers at Wrigley

Tuesday, July 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ Perhaps nowhere in baseball does tradition run deeper than at Wrigley Field, where a battle against expansion is being fought over the rooftops.

Fans watching Chicago Cubs games from roofs across the street from the ivy-covered park are a familiar sight to TV viewers around the country. Once those fans were local residents in lawn chairs, a beer in one hand and a bratwurst in the other. But today the rooftops are controlled by business people who charge as much as $100 a head.

The Cubs face a battle over their plan to expand the 39,059-seat jewel of a park on several fronts, but their proposal to raise the height of the bleachers would cut into the view from the roofs and cost some serious money to those business people who have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in their unofficial skyboxes.

Cubs officials say they are aware that love of the old-style park, which didn't even have lights until the 1980s, is almost an obsession in the surrounding neighborhood, known as Wrigleyville. But they are not sympathetic toward the business people who control the rooftops.

Neither are some fans.

``I believe they're stealing a product from the Cubs,'' says John Crouch, whose connection to the team includes helping with the brickwork for the statue of the late announcer Harry Caray that stands outside the park. ``They're parasites.''

Still, fans have made it clear that the sight of the rooftops from inside the ballpark is a big part of what makes Wrigley unique.

``You used to see Harry Caray panning the rooftops,'' says Bernard Hansen, the city alderman whose ward includes Wrigley. ``It was like the ivy.''

At a recent community meeting attended by hundreds of skeptical Cubs fans, Mark McGuire, the baseball team's executive vice president of business operations, assured them that the proposed changes would not alter Wrigley's character and would not ``obliterate'' the view of the rooftops from inside Wrigley. But it is clear that the changes would reduce the view FROM the rooftops.

Like the Cubs, the building owners have hired a public relations firm to help make their case. They are trying to convince the fans and the city that the issue is bigger than their lucrative enterprises.

``The rooftops are part of the attraction of Wrigley,'' says George Loukas, an owner.

A member of the owners' public relations team, Ken Jakubowski, goes even further: ``There's a social contract between the neighborhood and the team.''

The view from the rooftops, he says, has been part of that contract since 1937, when the team owner instructed the architect of the new bleachers not to obstruct the views from the rooftops.

How this will play at City Hall remains to be seen. Hansen says he thinks the city will allow the Cubs to add seats to the bleachers. The question is how many and how high they will go.

The city is withholding judgment until the Cubs formally submit their plans. Joel Werth, spokesman for the city planning department, says the city doesn't object to renovations but won't let the team harm ``a city treasure, maybe a national treasure.''

The Cubs say that increasing the size of the bleachers, which at $20 a ticket could mean more than $3.4 million to team revenues, is a must.

``We're trying very hard not to move from Wrigley Field,'' McGuire warns.