Did the five-year, $1 billion makeover of Chicago’s famous Wrigley Field drop the ball when it comes to providing adequate access for fans with disabilities? The U.S. Department of Justice review launched an official review to determine if the stadium’s recent renovations comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The federal probe follows a lawsuit filed against the Cubs by Chicago attorney David A. Cerda on behalf of his son David F. Cerda, who uses a wheelchair. The legal complaint alleges that Wrigley Field lacks sufficient wheelchair-accessible seats and that the seats provided are not properly distributed throughout the venue.
The historic ballpark was once exempt from certain ADA requirements, Cerda told the Chicago Tribune, but the scope of the updates meant that the Friendly Confines must now comply with newer regulations—specifically a 2010 rule stating the accessible seating must be “substantially equivalent to, or better than, the choices of seating locations and viewing angles available to other spectators.”
Before the renovation, Cedra told the newspaper that he and his son often sat in an accessible section about 15 rows behind home plate. Those seats, he says, have now been moved further away. Cedra also claims that only 46 of the required 217 accessible seats provide the sightlines enjoyed by other spectators.
The Justice Department has yet to release its findings. If it rules that Wrigley’s renovations violate the ADA, the Ricketts-owned venue will have the opportunity to make modifications before facing potential fines or civil suits.
Regardless of the outcome, the federal review has already impacted upcoming Wrigley Field improvements, such as a plan to add 40 accessible seats to the upper deck in time for opening day next spring. That part of the project has reportedly been placed on hold.
A lawyer representing the Cubs stated that “before making this substantial capital investment, however, the team believes it is prudent to place the project on hold and receive any feedback from the [U.S. Attorney’s Office] which might impact this seating,” according to a letter cited by the Chicago Sun-Times.
The same statement describes the project as “a privately-funded multi-year renovation to upgrade the ballpark, ensure its viability for future generations of Cubs fans, and preserve the historic features fans have come to know and love.” It mentions specific accessibility enhancements such as seating, elevators, and more accessible restrooms.
The renovation of Wrigley Field began in 2014 and includes new club amenities, locker rooms, bleachers, and a video board. It also featured a restoration of the building’s exterior architecture and an overhaul of its iconic red sign.
Meanwhile, the area surrounding the 105-year-old stadium has changed dramatically in recent years due to additions like the Hotel Zachary, the outdoor event plaza known as Gallagher Way, and the massive mixed-use Clark and Addison development.