By Dan Bernstein–
Another trial balloon from the Cubs has been met with another round of skepticism, and rightly so.
Last time around, an ill-timed, tone-deaf request for public money exploded in the faces of the Ricketts family. Swift condemnation from Mayor Daley and Governor Quinn echoed public sentiment, and whatever haphazard legislative effort had begun was soon scuttled meekly.
Yesterday’s expressed desire for a shutdown of a block of Sheffield Avenue for nine days of street festivals this summer was not on that scale – either in sheer size or chutzpah – but local officials still don’t seem much in the mood to party.
The Cubs saw the success of the “Wildcat Way” event in November for the Northwestern/Illinois football game at Wrigley, and are looking to recreate it around the three weekend series against the Yankees, White Sox and Cardinals, trying to spin it as something good for local businesses.
Alderman Tom Tunney isn’t so sure. “We have to have a real serious sitdown,” he told the Tribune. “We have enough festivals in the 44th Ward here, period, and parades.”
The difference in the crowd and atmosphere, too, makes it a riskier proposition. Tunney knows an alcohol-fueled mix of opposing fans, especially during hot rivalry weekends known to fray nerves, isn’t the same as that football game’s well-behaved group of alumni, students and families.
Cubs/Sox affairs can only be kid-friendly by the loosest definition. Some of us would not even think of taking our kids to those games at either park, let alone to a concurrent free-admission fair where beer is sold. The idea of safely juxtaposing face-painting and glad-handing with that potential mosh pit seems wishful, especially when we recall the scene on the streets during the 2003 playoffs, that too often looked like Arsenal and Man U were playing inside.
(Andy MacPhail, the Cubs’ President at the time, referred to that vibe as “negative energy.”)
Also uncertain is whether the plan hurts or helps independent merchants. It’s no secret that Tom Ricketts envies Boston’s Yawkey Way, a two-block stretch of city street that has been made a part of Fenway Park, and vacuums cash into team coffers. Any long-range plans involving the “triangle” building adjacent to Wrigley would likely use N. Seminary Avenue similarly.
Wrigleyville business leaders know these festivals are a trial run for the Cubs’ inevitable moves to take over the food and beer sales for themselves. No roadmap to financial flexibility or survival is complete without it.
As the phrase goes, it’s gonna happen.
Eventually, fans with tickets to the game will enter the park grounds at either end of Seminary, enjoying pregame fare supplied by the Cubs and buying bagfuls of overpriced swag directly from the team.
In the short term with this plan, the little guy gets a few extra bucks from those without tickets attracted to the free fun. It’s a loss-leader for the Cubs – some early good will with the neighborhood that has made money for years selling something they don’t own or pay for.
Long term, the Cubs will push them out, as is their right, if not their responsibility to fans who want them to invest in winning the World Series.
Gus Isaacson is the executive director of the Central Lakeview Merchants Association. He told the Sun Times “If 500 Cubs fans come to the street fair who would not otherwise have been here, maybe then I would support it. But, if we’re going to split the pie with the same number of people, then I have brick-and-mortar stores that need the business. This could take away from them.”
Of course it could. That’s the whole idea.
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein’s blogs here.
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