Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Turning Wrigley Field into a version of the old State Street downtown “mall?”

Remember back in the days when city officials came up with the idea to turn the State Street downtown shopping district.

Much of the Cubs' appeal is that Wrigley Field hasn't changed much from the days of this six-decade-old postcard
No street traffic. Sidewalks widened. Meant to encourage the idea of people walking about from store to store, making that “great street” into something the equivalent of a suburban mall?

IT IS NOW regarded as one of the dumbest things ever done by the city in an attempt to improve its character, and former Mayor Richard M. Daley made it a priority to have it undone – turning the area around State and Madison streets into normal streets once again.

And improving the atmosphere on State Street significantly by returning it to its original character.

It’s obvious that some people don’t learn from past mistakes. Which seems to be the case with regards to Wrigley Field.

For Chicago Cubs officials have said they want a widening of the sidewalks in the block of the ballpark along Clark and Addison streets. Also, the ball club wants those two streets closed off to traffic on game days during the hours leading up to, and following, ballgames.

WHICH MAY BE only 81 games per year out of the 365-day calendar. But it would still inflict significant damage upon the Lake View neighborhood as a whole – not just the portion that likes to call itself Wrigleyville.

The reality is that the more-than-a-century-old building, which the Cubs themselves will celebrate the 100-year mark of playing in come this season, was built for a different era and for much smaller crowds.

The idea of cramming some 40,000 people per ballgame wasn’t something envisioned back in the days when the Chicago Whales of old built the structure at Clark and Addison (the Cubs back then were the West Side’s ball club).

Would Cubs really copy one of Chicago's redevelopment failures? Photograph provided by
So I don’t doubt that the Cubs have a legitimate point when they say the current structure isn’t really adequate for the number of people they’re cramming in to see Cubs baseball.

BUT I COULD see where such changes would have a negative impact on the neighborhood itself. Bringing in all those people could further enhance the complaints of Lake View neighborhood residents who already complain about Cubs fans who can’t wait long enough to use a port-a-potty or a neighborhood tavern and instead insist on using the alleys behind peoples’ homes for their bathroom needs.

And while I’m sure the Cubs are sincere about their desires to accommodate their crowds, the reality is that much of the reason the Cubs actually draw fans and attract tourists to Wrigley Field is because people want to see its antique character up-close.

The changes being desired by the Cubs would turn Wrigley Field into a second-rate version of any other stadium built during the past couple of decades.

I say second-rate because the changes would be add-ons, instead of features that were designed with the structure in mind.

SOMETIMES I THINK the Cubs don’t appreciate the uniqueness of the facility they play in and its ability to draw people and bolster attendance. If they did, would they be so quick to ask for changes to the structure and its character?

Where else do you see fans buying (and wearing) jerseys touting not the Cubs, but Wrigley Field itself? Besides, so much of Wrigley Field’s character is based off the way it fits into the existing neighborhood. If these kind of features are needed, perhaps it is time to move on to a suburban site for a new stadium – which I’m sure even the Cubs would view as a mistake.

So as for this latest dispute, I’m not surprised to learn that neighborhood activists are speaking out against the Cubs’ demands. These are, after all, the descendants of people who for years fought against the Cubs being allowed to install light towers on the building.

I only hope that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and other city officials will feel enough backbone to listen to the neighbors instead of caving in to team owners – which is the stance that politicians everywhere usually wind up taking.


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