Wrigley Field’s much-publicized renovation appears to have secured its status as a gem of the game for decades to come, but when it comes to complying with federal law protecting access for disabled fans, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago says Cubs are out. .
After a years-long investigation, US Attorney General John Lash’s office filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging the team violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to make Wrigley “accessible” for fans who use wheelchairs or have other disabilities.
The 19-page lawsuit filed in US District Court comes after nearly three years After it was revealed In a separate lawsuit, federal authorities have launched an investigation into whether the Cubs’ $1 billion, five-year renovation of the century-old soccer field meets the standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The suit alleged that the comprehensive rebuilding of the stands and lower platform, dubbed “Project 1060,” failed to provide wheelchair users with adequate lines of sight, compared to regular sponsors. In the lower stand, the suit says, “The wheelchair user can barely see any of the court when spectators are standing – often during the most exciting parts of the game.”
In public entry areas, wheelchair seating is most closely grouped in the last row of seating sections, according to suit. Cubs also failed to incorporate wheelchair seating into the new premium clubs and group seating areas, such as the Catalina Club on the top floor and Budweiser’s patio in right field, and the overall design failed to remove architectural barriers to access unchanging parts of the stadium as per the suit.
The lawsuit identifies the Cubs and other corporate owners and operators of the Wrigleyfield facility as defendants. The government is seeking a court injunction compelling the team to fix any deficiencies on the field as well as unspecified damages “in the appropriate amount for the injuries incurred”.
CAPS spokesman Julian Green said in an emailed statement that the team was cooperating with the federal investigation and was “disappointed” with the Justice Department’s decision to file a lawsuit.
“(We hope) the issue can be resolved amicably, but we will defend Wrigley Field and our position that meets audience accessibility requirements,” the statement read. “The renovation of Wrigley Field significantly increased the accessibility of the stadium and was completed in accordance with applicable law and historic preservation standards consistent with the designation of the stadium as a National Landmark and the City of Chicago.”
In response to the federal investigation, Greene said, “The Cubs voluntarily made several offerings to enhance the accessible features of the stadium, including seating, restrooms, perks and other key access elements.”
But those allegations have been contested by Chicago attorney David A. Cerda, who filed a lawsuit in December 2017 on behalf of his son David F. Cerda, a lifelong Cubs fan who suffers from muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair.
Cerda’s lawsuit, which is still ongoing in Chicago federal court, alleges that the renovated Wrigley Field made attending the match a much worse experience for disabled goers.
“We are very pleased to see the Department of Justice pick up on one of the central allegations we made: that the Cubs, out of sheer greed, replaced their existing good ADA seats with luxury ones, which excluded ADA sponsors in knowledge of ADA rights infringement,” Senior Serda said Thursday.
Prior to the renovation, Cerda and his son often sat in an accessible seating section about 15 rows behind the panel house. These seats were moved off the field during the renovation.
Cerda said other accessible seats in the right-hand stands and upstairs under the press box have been converted into premium seats, relegating disabled patrons to unwanted vantage points.
“They did it for money, greed and profit,” said Cerda, 61.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department’s lawsuit includes photos of some of the worst alleged violations of federal law, noting that the bleacher repair was particularly bad for wheelchair users.
“The Cubs’ decision to assemble wheelchair seats on balconies not only isolates wheelchair users from other fans and confines them to the worst seats in the stands, but also limits their ability to watch the game,” the lawsuit said. “This is because wheelchair seats on the balconies were not built to provide lines of sight to the field over standing spectators.”
Instead, the lawsuit stated that the wheelchair seats relied on a policy that “discourages but does not prevent fans from sitting in the stands from sitting and standing in the two rows directly in front of the wheelchair spaces.” Although rows are tight and guides are supposed to enforce the rules, spectators still roam in front of the seats, according to the suit.
The suit alleged that the “Ein Batter” area in the middle of the dead city, which is covered in mesh and abnormally heats in the summer, was also the subject of numerous complaints from wheelchair users.
The Cubs first filed a Notice of Federal Review in December 2019 as part of Cerda’s lawsuit. At the time, a lawyer representing the team wrote a letter to the judge saying that the Cubs believed the reform “significantly increased access to the stadium.”
The letter said compliance with the ADA “is of critical importance to the Cubs, as is ensuring all fans have access to Wrigley Field, a historic and aging football stadium with a limited physical footprint.”
In the statement released after the lawsuit was filed Thursday, the team said Wrigley Field is “more accessible now than at any time in its 108-year history,” with 11 more elevators than before, accessible toilets, and assistive listening technology. For the hard of hearing fans. and improved sound systems, “enhanced ticketing and online systems for purchasing seats, including accessible seats”.
Cerda said the 11 lifts added to the renovated Wrigley Field are necessary to transport disabled customers away from the good seating they once had.
“They have more lifts because they need more lifts to push disabled customers to the upper reaches of the stands,” he said.
Chicago Tribune editors’ top picks are delivered to your inbox every afternoon.
Cerda’s son, who went to his first Cubs game when he was 3 months old, is now 25 years old and continues to follow the team. On Tuesday, he attended his first game at Wrigley Stadium since the pandemic hit, and watched the Cubs lose their fifth straight loss, falling 4-2 to the Baltimore Orioles.
Cerda the Elder, a South Cedar native who grew up rooting for the Cubs, began attending games at Wrigley Field when he was eight and has struggled all his life with losses, including the team’s epic meltdown in 1969, which he witnessed from the fifth grade. The seats are behind the first base bunker.
He never wavered in his loyalty, until he joined the battle over the accessible seats.
“I became a Sox fan,” Cerda said. “I will never set foot in this place again.”