With just a week to go before Opening Day #99 at Wrigley Field, as well as an April 1 deadline to strike a deal with the city,there's an open question that threatens to overshadow the Chicago Cubs' predicted doomed season ahead:
When Wrigley Field celebrates its 100th birthday in 2014, will it be in Wrigley Field, at their storied corner of Addison and Clark Street, with the statues of Harry Caray, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks and Billy Williams in attendance? Or will ground be broken in the eager and ever-growing Rosemont, Illinois, near Balmoral and Pearl Streets?
Audacity, thy name is Mayor Bradley Stephens, who presented a thoroughly researched proposal to the Ricketts family last week, "in case things didn't work out with the City of Chicago."
As reported by the Chicago Tribune, Stephens proposed a 25-acre site bordering I-294, after preliminary studies by village engineers convinced Stephens it was feasible to build a ballpark on a patch of land in a tax-increment-financing district just outside O'Hare Airport and still have room for parking and a complex if the Cubs desire. The location includes an "L" stop and a Metra station, but Stephens got most animated describing the 250,000 vehicles on Interstate Highway 294 that would pass signage on the outfield exterior.
What? Are the Stephens family to Rosemont what Mayor Richard J. Daley and his family were to the City of Chicago?
I think so.
It is my opinion that no other political family comes closer to the audacity and vision of the Daley clan, who truly believe that Chicago is the greatest, most beautiful city ever. And the Stephens family has ruled the village since 1956, ever since the "father of Rosemont," the late Donald E. Stephens, began working on his own vision ....to take an undeveloped, unremarkable outpost near the just-opened (1955) O'Hare International Airport, and make it a beautiful, prosperous, landmark village.
Not unlike Mayor Richard J. Daley's vision to "have Chicagoans fish on the lakefront."
"My dad would say, 'When is that nightlife crap going to pay off for you? When is that baseball park going to work?' " says Mr. Stephens, "Now. Now it's paying off."
Despite the relative smallness of Rosemont's land area and population among municipalities in the Chicago Metropolitan Area, over the past 57 years, the village is a major center for commercial activity in the region and is a key component of the Golden Corridor. The Stephens' family territory is just a lot smaller, with a fiefdom of under two miles (1.79 to be exact) just a fraction of the size of Chicago. And the population is just 4,772. In gated communities. You have to hand to the Stephens family. The village's leadership has created a top meeting-convention-tradeshow and entertainment center. The Village of Rosemont's website claims that it hosts an average 50,000 visitors a day.
And like Daddy Daley, Stephens ruled Rosemont from 1956 until the day he died of cancer in 2007. Along the way, he fought charges of mob activity and was denied a casino license as a result.
But what a legacy. Besides his three sons, he left Rosemont with major hotels, good eatin', (Harry Caray's, Hugo's, Gibsons, etc.) major corporations and universities, the Allstate Arena, home to the Chicago Rush of the Arena Football League, the Chicago Wolves in the American Hockey League, the WNBA's Chicago Sky, and the DePaul University's basketball team, and what seems like thousands of concerts.
And now comes Mayor Brad's vision. A news article on the Village of Rosemont's website recounted an interview at the then-unfinished Park at Rosemont that eventually brought six new bars, Toby Keith's Restaurant, The Hofbrau Haus, the Muvico Movie Theater and Zanie's Comedy Club to the village.
And of course, the Rivers Casino, the 10th and final state license that proved elusive to Mayor Donald during his lifetime, amid charges of mob influence.
"It's not about the money," Mr. Stephens insisted, "It's about bringing families here."
News Release, Village of Rosemont Website, 2007
There might be something to that. The teams based in Rosemont have become successful by bringing families to the affordable, family-friendly sports venues. Collectively, the professional teams based in Rosemont have brought seven national championships to the area, including one Rush ArenaBowl, four Wolves Championship Cups, and two Bandits NPF Championships.
Despite never making the playoffs in its seven-year existence, the Sky, according to WNBA statistics, led the league in increased attendance at 29%. Owner Michael Alter said that part of the reason for the growth was its relocation to Allstate Arena in 2010 from the UIC Pavilion.
I spend a lot of time in Rosemont, thanks to the vision of the Stephens family and my commitment to women's sports.
In 2011, the Chicago Bandits women's National Pro Fastpitch team opened the Ballpark at Rosemont, and a year later, hosted the NPF Softball Championships, aka, the "World Series of Softball." The Bandits are again hosting the series in 2013.
How'd they do for a first time? In the 1,600 seat stadium, the Bandits did a bang-up job hosting more than 1,000 fans and media members per day over three days. Everything went fine...until the last day, when the NPF cancelled the series after drenching rains proved impossible to stop and impossible to drain. It wasn't Rosemont's fault that there was no 2012 NPF Champion, though. The league decided that with only one game played, and players committed elsewhere, they couldn't afford it.
Like Topsy, though, the Village learns and grows. On a subzero January night this year, I was privileged to visit the newly opened, 140,000 square foot Dome at the Ballpark with twins Marissa and Mia Loya, 14, of the Tinley Park Rockers softball team, their parents, Melita and Dan, and their grandfather, Ted. Inside, it was a delightful 72 degrees, with a carpet of green grass in the brightly lit, brand-new on 34 Jennie Finch Way (aka Balmoral and Pearl Streets) rising high and adjacent to the Ballpark at Rosemont, home of the Chicago Bandits.
Excited to be among the first softball teams to actually use the Dome, the twins were warming up for a 10 pm start time as they played a Round Robin with other area teams.
"This is so cool!" they chorused.
A concessions stand inside the Dome wisely sold not-unreasonably priced coffee, soda and snacks to the exhausted families who needed sustenance to cheer more than 100 girls taking part in the first of the "Rumbles at Rosemont."
As the twins worked through several innings and extra innings, around 12:30, I asked Melita, "How can you maintain your energy?"
" With a lot of coffee," she smiled.
The stand didn't close down until the last team left the field.
In recent days, the new Dome has also been the site of Media Day for the Chicago Rush, where the unveiled new ownership and uniforms.
Can Rosemont Handle A 40,000+ Mob from April-October?
While Rosemont has done small things well, and lacks for nothing in the way of boldness and innovation, I still have concerns about the scope of this project. Yes, Rosemont is accessible. Yes, it is feasible to build on the 25-acre site. Yes, it would be a fresh start for a club with the longest stretch between World Series appearances (and titles). Who knows, the move could "break the curse."
But I have several concerns, not the least of which is that no other stadium in Rosemont comes near to the maintenance, personnel and size that Wrigley Field would be.
Building a "Wrigley in Rosemont" is everything Rosemont has ever done, times a hundred million:
How do you manage 40,000 fans, when your previous largest crowds are half that size? Another problem is the land itself. Mayor Stephens and the Village engineers need to provide serious drainage plans to the Ricketts family, because the landsite is hilly, especially near the Metra Station, which only runs on weekdays. Speaking of transportation, I'd like to see where parking would be located. Please make it better than I got at Candlestick Park. I'd also like to see how you could get from the Rosemont CTA Blue Line, located approximately 1.5 miles from the proposed site, without having to hail a cab. Would the 223 CTA bus operate a Wrigley line exclusively, as they do for Sky games, and as Toyota Park does for the Chicago Fire?
There are few stadiums as beloved as Wrigley Field. When the Boston Red Sox threatened to level Fenway Park, Red Sox Nation rose up in horror, and out of that came a rebirth through improving the current stadium. That said, the Detroit Pistons play in Auburn Hills and the New York Jets/Giants play in New Jersey. But their stadiums were nowhere near as beloved as Wrigley Field.
Think carefully, Tom Ricketts! Your minions await your decision. Make it a good one.