By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) Come this summer, I’ll have spent seven full years living six blocks from one of the most festive intersections in all of America.
That would be Sheffield & Waveland.
And during the time I’ve resided just a short jog away from the bleachers entrance to Wrigley Field, I’ve learned a few things about navigating the neighborhood that both the Chicago Cubs and I call home. Among the lessons: There’s one Wrigleyville intersection that you never try to drive through on baseball gamedays.
That would also be Sheffield & Waveland.
So, considering that, why don’t we just go ahead remove gameday driving from that intersection altogether?
And make things even more festive for everyone.
On Monday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Mayor Rahm Emanuel, in an effort to renovate Wrigley without overburdening taxpayers, is pushing a plan that would relax the 98-year-old ballpark’s landmark status. According to the story, such a measure could allow the Cubs to milk as much as $150 million in additional advertising and sponsorship revenues out of the stadium and its surrounding streets with events such as a Sheffield street fair.
With the city and state in such dire budgetary straits – and Wrigley in dire need of an overhaul – the plan does make a good deal of sense. As Chicago-based sports marketing expert Marc Ganis explained to the Sun-Times, “The more that is generated out of improvements to the building and the activities immediately around it, the less money is needed from the public sector.”
Now, as a big fan of Wrigley Field, I’d prefer to see the Cubs tread very lightly when it comes to additional advertising inside the ballpark. But as a big fan of winning, I’m also in favor of blocking off Sheffield Avenue on game days if it can help the Cubs raise more cash outside the ballpark to help bolster the team playing inside it.
As I pointed out, with fans pouring in or out of the bleachers, the corner of Sheffield and Waveland is almost unnavigable to vehicle traffic when games are going on. So, allowing the Cubs to make Sheffield a Midwest version of Fenway Park’s Yawkey Way and set up a daily street fest makes perfect sense. So perfect, in fact, that it should have happened a long time ago.
Or at least last year.
In 2011, the Cubs pitched the idea of closing down a block-long stretch of Sheffield between Waveland and Addison for three days on each of the weekends that the Yankees, Cardinals and White Sox were at Wrigley. The team wanted to stage a relatively modest family-friendly, interactive street fair similar to the “Wildcat Alley” fest that was a success during the Illinois-Northwestern football game held at Wrigley in November 2010.
Those baseball fests didn’t happen along Sheffield, though, as Tom Tunney, the powerful 44th Ward alderman whose turf includes Wrigley Field, blocked the idea. He was backed by local merchants who surely didn’t want to see any of their food, drink and apparel dollars slipping into the Cubs’ own coffers.
The irony of that, of course, is that without the Cubs and Wrigley Field, many of those merchants’ businesses wouldn’t even exist in the first place. And that fact goes double (at least) for the Wrigleyville rooftop club owners, whose sales product wouldn’t exist at all if the Cubs weren’t playing games right across the street.
For several years, Tunney has butted heads with the Cubs on a variety of issues – some legit, some less so – as he’s regularly supported the rooftop owners who wisely host campaign fundraisers for Tunney and share 17 percent of their revenues with the Cubs.
When it comes to wrangling over Wrigley issues, Tunney explained his civic duty to the Sun-Times: “My job is to be very respectful of the taxpayers and the overall quality of life for our residents here. Those are the people who put me in office.”
Now, as one of the alderman’s constituents for the past seven years, I appreciate that notion. But I should also tell Tunney that I knew perfectly well what neighborhood I was moving into when I moved into it. Everyone else who lives in Wrigleyville did too, and I think it’s pretty safe to say that the ballpark predates almost all of us.
The stretch of Sheffield between Waveland and Addison is barely residential at all, as it’s filled with bars and rooftop buildings. And anyone who is living along that strip – it’s just a single block – should certainly be accepting of the Cubs’ commotion.
Otherwise, they shouldn’t have moved there in the first place.
Now, as for the full list of ways that the Cubs and the city ultimately decide to finance Wrigley renovations, I’ll let them continue to hash that out.
But I will say that, no matter what, a Sheffield Street Fest should be on the docket for future seasons – especially the events can make money that could help out the historic ballpark, its hapless team and the community that feeds off both of them.
A Cubdom without them? Well, that’s just Cub dumb.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.