They play rough in Chicago politics, as Tom Ricketts is finding out: Wrigley Field reno opponent Ald. Tom Tunney has received over $171,000 in campaign contribution from those opposing ballpark expansions.
That’s a lot of money, even by big-city standards. The money is from the likes of Cubby Bear Lounge owner George Loukas (who also has a stake in rooftop clubs), local restaurateurs and rooftop club owners. (The Chicago Sun-Times has an excellent analysis of the specifics.)
There’s a weird dynamic you don’t find with many urban ballparks: the relationship between the Cubs — who bear all the expense in actually fielding a squad and running a ballgame — and the businesspeople of Wrigleyville, who have borne very little expense in establishing bars, restaurants and clubs almost totally fueled by Cubs fans. MLB types usually aren’t very patient with those who profit at what they consider to be their expense (hence their attacks on ticket resellers and consistently inaccurate trademark claims), but here’s an example of a totally parasitic relationship.
It’s certainly true that as part of the Wrigley Field expansion, the Cubs are working to draw more money into their coffers, probably somewhat at the expense of these surrounding businesses — though we’re not entirely sure this is a zero-sum game. (The local business owners obviously think it is.) By donating heavily to Tunney and receiving some City Hall protection, the local businesses are working hard to make sure their revenue streams aren’t impacted. Fair enough: it’s the political system at work.
But the city and Cubs fans deserve better than the representation offered by Tunney. The Cubs are a major Chicago attraction and a big tourist draw, bringing in plenty of dollars from outside the area. Similarly, Wrigley Field is a national treasure. The renovation plan proposed by the Cubs braintrust and Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pretty reasonable: a new scoreboard, a renovated suite level and expansion onto Waveland and Sheffied on game days (streets that are basically closed when big crowds are on hand anyway). Tunney opposes closing down the streets and any signage that could impact the views from the rooftops. Opposing the signage is worth discussing, but opposing the street closures is actually counter to the interests of the rooftop owners. Closing the streets will bring more people to that side of the ballpark and directly expose fans to the rooftop club offerings — the rooftop owners should welcome a doubling or tripling of foot traffic outside their establishments, especially when Wrigley Field is sold out and fans are looking for a unique vantage point for the game.
So there’s a lot of room for negotiations. But Tunney needs to make it pretty clear he’s not just in the pockets of the local business owners and show he represents all of his constituents — and that list includes the Chicago Cubs.
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