Can’t Live With ‘Em, Can’t Live Without ‘Em

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Can’t Live With ‘Em, Can’t Live Without ‘Em

Wrigley Field, Home of Chicago Cubs.

Wrigley Field, Home of Chicago Cubs.

Wrigley Field, Home of Chicago Cubs.

Wrigley Field, Home of Chicago Cubs.

By Features Editor

There is almost no limit to Lakeview-native Michael Mayor’s devotion to the Cubs.

He endured his wife’s wrath for waking his two eldest sons—then ages 5 and 4—on the night of Oct. 14, 2003, to watch the eighth inning of Game 6 of the National League Championship series. The Cubs were up 3–0 against the Florida Marlins, carrying a 3–2 game lead in a best of seven series, and victory was so close he could taste it.

But tragedy struck just moments later.

Fan Steve Bartman reached from the stands and caught a foul ball hit by Marlins second baseman Luis Castillo, arguably interfering with Cub outfielder Moisés Alou’s catch. Then shortstop Alex Gonzalez made a fatal error, a fieldable ground ball shooting between his legs, kicking the door open for the Marlins’ devastating eight-run inning.

Dejected and in a state of complete disbelief, only one thought echoed in Mayor’s head: “Did this really happen?”

Despite the sting of disappointment that has plagued generations of Cubs enthusiasts, fans con- tinue to flock to the iconic Wrigley Field, 1060 W. Addison St., in Wrigleyville. But what if the beloved team left the ballpark?

It is a harsh reality that hanging over every negotia- tion attached to the planned renovation of the stadium is the veiled threat of the team pulling up its roots and relocating to a nearby suburb.

In the past year, the Cubs have been embroiled in a battle over the renovations with rooftop club owners on Waveland and Sheffield avenues. The clubs, whose mounted rooftop bleachers offer clear views of the entire playing field, charge admission on game days and nights.

On Aug. 14, eight Wrigley Field rooftop club owners filed suit against the city of Chicago. The lawsuit requests that a judge review the Commission on Chicago Landmarks’ unanimous July 10 decision allowing the team to construct five outfield signs, two Jumbotrons and up to eight additional rows of bleachers that the rooftop owners claim will block their customers’ view of the field.

According to court documents, the plaintiffs—who include Right Field Properties, Sheffield-Waveland Rooftops, Wrigley Rooftops and the Annex Club— claim that the Landmark Commission’s decision 

violates the 2004 Wrigley Field Landmark Designation Ordinance. The ordinance cites the unobstructed view of the buildings on Sheffield and Waveland avenues as contributing to the ballpark’s landmark designation.

The city Law Department could not be reached for comment on the litigation.

In the midst of the several years-long scuffle, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts said on May 1 that he would consider moving the team if the issue could not be resolved, according to a same-day Associated Press report. The threat seems a possibility as Brad Stevens, mayor of Chicago suburb Rosemont, has offered a free 25-acre plot of land if Ricketts decides to transplant the team.

“Well, the fact is if we don’t have the ability to generate revenue in our own outfield, then we’ll have to take a look at moving,” Ricketts said in the report. “All we really need is to be able to run our business like a business and not a museum.”

Fans and residents consider Ricketts’ threat laugh- able, but how would Wrigleyville and the Cubs’ culture be impacted by a team relocation?

Unlike Bridgeport, home of the White Sox’s U.S. Cellular Field, 333 W. 35th St., where local enthusiasm for the team appears low-key, a festive collage of blue and red is draped over Wrigleyville.

Maureen Martino, executive director of the East Lakeview Chamber of Commerce, said a move would ravage the local economy and many businesses in the area immediately surrounding the ballpark would likely end up shuttered.

“It would be devastating—we would have a lot of vacancies and we would see a huge loss in revenue,” Martino said. “A lot of the additional revenue that’s coming into our area restaurants and businesses in the neighborhood would see a significant decrease of foot traffic.”

As part of the Cubs’ proposal to renovate Wrigley Field, the Cubs agreed to finance neighborhood improvements, including a $1 million commitment to construct a new park at 1230 W. School St. and a $3.75 million donation to improve community infra- structure and to build an open-air plaza. In the proposal, the Cubs also promised a $500 million investment toward structure restoration and job creation.

“We need jobs so we can circulate the revenue and also so people can stay and live in Lakeview,” Martino said.

Going hand-in-hand with the success of the park, nearby bars depend on additional revenue from the games for the success of their businesses.

The dark wood floors, free-flowing taps and flashing television screens permanently fixed on Sports Center at Nisei Lounge, 3424 N. Sheffield Ave., are typical features of the several saloons in the neighborhood that fans frequent on game days and weekends.

Bartender T.J. Hart has worked in the area for three years. He said Wrigleyville’s culture has as much to do with the bar scene as it does with the Cubs. If you can’t make $200 on a Sunday game night as a bartender, it’s time to throw in the towel, he said. The financial success of the bars is dependent on the team, and if the Cubs packed up and left, the bars would, too, he added.

“In between Belmont [Avenue] and Addison [Street], it would deteriorate,” Hart said. “Some bars would still stay open, but it wouldn’t be the area that it is today or has been for a while. There’s that bar culture, that need to go out on a Saturday night or that need to go out on a Friday night or what have you. It’s just a part of the area.”

Edward Cressey, owner of The Dugout Bar and Grill, 950 W. Addison St., said though his business is one of the smallest in Wrigleyville, he would be just as affected by a move as his mammoth-sized neighbors on Clark Street.

“It all depends on what would replace Wrigley Field—condos, a football team, the White Sox,” Cressey said. “It would hurt my business, that’s for sure.”

Waverly Deutsch, clinical professor of entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago, said the survival rate of businesses that benefit from the Cubs’ presence—typically bars and restaurants—would be equivalent to that of a demographically and economically similar neighborhood.

“If you look at the density of sports bars on Division [Street] in Wicker Park or North [Avenue] in Bucktown or along Halsted [Street] in Lincoln Park, you’re probably looking at a survival rate similar to that,” Deutsch said. “[If the Cubs move] we’re going to lose maybe up to 40–50 percent of the bars and restaurants in that area.”

Michael Leeds, professor of economics at Temple University in Philadelphia and president of the National Association of Sports Economists, is not as skittish as local residents. He said a move would not be as devastating as some Chicagoans may think.

“Once you go a few blocks out, the impact will be practically nil,” Leeds said. “There will have to be some reorientation, perhaps, but it’s not like people are going to shrivel up and die because the Cubs aren’t there.”

Leeds said Chicago’s major sports teams account for less than one percent of the city’s economy. In the local economy, a sports franchise has about the same effect as a small to mid-size department store, he said.

Caitlin Crowley, a manager at the cafe Uncommon Ground, 3800 N. Clark St., said the restaurant would not be adversely impacted by a move at all. She said the restaurant’s clientele does not typically include Cubs fans.

“When the Cubs play the Cardinals and [fans] have to come in for a day or two, that’s when we do get af- fected because they stay around,” Crowley said. “We would not feel as much a direct impact as all the other restaurants in the area.”

Eric Carlson, a broker associate at Braid & Warner, said property values within a block of Wrigley Field would actually rise. He estimated the current value of a one-bedroom one-bathroom apartment on Clark Street near the field is $1,800–2,000 per month.

“Essentially, if you’re within a block of the park, it’s really difficult to get in and out of your house [or] your driveway,” Carlson said. “Property values that are close are lower than if they were a block or two further, where you’re not going to have as much traffic from the games.”

People do not move to Lakeview for the ballpark because it can become a nuisance, Carlson said. Regardless, residents who could have their neighborhood a bit quieter and a bit cleaner would miss the team anyway, he said.

As far as what would happen to the ballpark, Chi- cago has a tradition of knocking down its rarely used landmarks in favor of new developments named after them.

Central Station, an 80-acre residential community located at the southern tip of Grant Park, is on the site of the former Illinois Central Station, 1455 S. Michigan Ave. The stately Victorian passenger railway building was torn down in 1971. There is the possibility that Wrigley Field could be torn down to make way for new development.

Martino said it sometimes takes years to get the community on board with new development. A comparatively simple development of a Mariano’s on Broadway took nine years, she said.

“You want to make sure it’s a community process and everybody in the surrounding area is going to 

mbrace whatever development it is,” Martino said. However, several other factors make a move unlikely. Howard Schlossberg, associate journalism professor at Columbia and veteran sports reporter at the Daily Herald, said the Cubs have no reason to go.

“Four words, baby—it’s always the money, [and] it’s right there,” Schlossberg said. “Wrigley Field is located in a [middle-class] to upscale neighborhood of young urban working professionals who can walk to the darn ballpark and take public transportation, get drunk and not have to worry about driving home.”

He said the Cubs and its owners ultimately have the power to get what they want in and out of court.

“Ricketts’ threat about moving to Rosemont was so ridiculously shallow,” Schlossberg said. “Why do you think they haven’t moved out yet? Mayor Emanuel has made sure in piecemeal order here that everything the Cubs have wanted to do to the stadium, they have been able to do or will be able to do over time.”

When Chicago teams have threatened to leave the city, such as the White Sox in the 1980s, government officials have had a history of stepping in to keep the team owners happy.

Old Comiskey Park, 324 W. 35th St., was in serious disrepair by June 1988, and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf was threatening to relocate the team to Florida. At the last second, Gov. James R. Thompson secured the necessary state funding to finance a new Comiskey Park, which was renamed U.S. Cellular Field in 2003.

If the Cubs were ever to seriously consider a move based on interference with their development plan, Mayor Rahm Emanuel would likely intervene, Schlossberg said.

“I’m sure the city would go on this big campaign to get them back,” he said.

Leeds said the Cubs do not have those bargaining chips with fans, though. Unlike most teams, the Cubs’ attendance is not tied to winning. He said Wrigley Field is a major part of the teams’ brand, and without it, the Cubs do not have a lot of flexibility and cannot expect to fill a ballpark. Meanwhile, the structure would get scant use as a concert venue.

Leeds pointed to the New York Mets as a historical precedent to the Cubs. In the franchise’s first 10 years, the Mets were one of the worst teams in baseball, but the “lovable losers” managed to draw a reasonable crowd regardless. After winning the 1969 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles and returning to lose against the Oakland A’s in 1973, the Mets slowed down, and so did attendance.

“I think that’s the danger facing the Cubs,” Leeds said. “If they were to move to a nice, new shiny ballpark [fans would start asking], ‘Okay, well, are you winning?’”

George Castle, web editor and historian for the Chicago Baseball Museum and columnist for the Times of Northwest Indiana, differed, saying that if the Cubs did transform themselves into a winning team, they would have a larger fan base in the suburbs than within the city limits. Suburban fans would continue to support the team if the stadium was more accessible to them.

“The average fan wants amenities and is driving to the game,” Castle said. “It’s easier for them to go to the suburbs … [Wrigley] has become a dump, and it’s not comfortable. People expect certain amenities [and] a decent enough acreage [most] teams can easily provide.”

In April 2014, the New York Times used aggregated data provided by Facebook to create a map that shows baseball allegiance by the percentage of “likes” a team has gained in each zip code.

It shows that other than the White Sox stronghold carved south of I-290, Cubs fans dominate the Chicagoland area. Their domain stretches as far west as Des Moines, Iowa, east to Paulding County, Ohio, and is generally rooted in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Statistically, the roomier Rosemont is as fortified a Cubs stronghold as a cramped Wrigley.

Mayor stands by Wrigley Field. Despite the convenience a suburban stadium could bring him, he said he thinks the Cubs deserve a World Series win at Wrigley Field.

“I would continue to spend $75 on parking,” Mayor said. “I would continue to go to the bathroom and have people pee on me while I’m peeing to see the Cubs win the World Series at Wrigley Field. That’s kind of crazy I’d say that, but it’s the way I feel.”

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