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South Loop Sox ... again

White Sox in “serious” talks to build new stadium in the 78?

The 1960s South Loop Sox Park ... that never was.

Late Wednesday evening, news trickled out on Twitter that the Chicago White Sox were in “serious” talks to build a new ballpark on a vacation parcel of land at Clark & Roosevelt streets in the South Loop. While the source of this news is a Sun-Times article, without confirmation from other outlets, it presents a fascinating possibility for the Sox organization and Sox fans alike. A bright, shiny, new downtown ballpark is something many of us have dreamed of since Comiskey Park II opened in all of its cold, stale, soulless, blue glory 30+ years ago.

If you did a double-take when you saw the article and had to check the date, you aren't alone. Building a new White Sox Park at Clark & Roosevelt isn’t a new idea.

The location was under consideration in the late 1960s, and again in the mid-1980s, when the new Sox ownership group led by Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn were shopping for a new stadium — and courting potential dupes to foot the bill. Whether there is any truth to the tale that JR nixed the South Loop location due to infrastructure construction costs (the site is not set up for basic utilities, like water service) is a story for another day. As is the question of whether a new downtown stadium dropped into a pre-gentrified South Loop would have changed the team’s fortunes over the past 30 years.

The Sox had the opportunity to be pioneers in the downtown, retro ballpark trend of the early 90s ahead of Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and so many others; HOK’s design team in fact offered a retro park concept to the White Sox, who rejected it. Instead, we got a faux Dodgers stadium designed for suburbia, dropped into a sea of asphalt that was once home to the old baseball palace of the world.

As much as it pains me to admit, Wrigley Field’s great success is its connection to the surrounding neighborhood (with Cubs ownership now trying to dissociate from that presently), something that Reinsdorf and the ISFA never desired. I myself have dreamed of a Guaranteed Rate Field with local businesses operating on redeveloped parking lots, serving fans and neighborhood residents alike; a park that is a destination, and not merely a stadium surrounded by cold, empty parking lots the 20 or so hours a day when not in use.

A South Loop stadium could be such a destination. With a limited footprint, ample transit options, and countless pre-existing parking structures, Clark & Roosevelt could combine the draw of a downtown venue with the cozy intimacy of a neighborhood ballpark. With the Museum Campus mere blocks away, and being only a mile from the heart of downtown, the old, undesirable (“dangerous”) myths about the White Sox’s Bridgeport neighborhood melt away. The White Sox would have the opportunity to be an actual tourist draw, and give the Cubs a run for their money as a destination experience.

Response from fans on Twitter has been mixed. Many see it as a cash grab by the old man in his twilight years, or a craven attempt to boost the franchise value — and most are against any sort of public funding. I myself am against giving tax dollars to greedy billionaires, and if we know anything about Reinsdorf, he won’t be footing a billion-dollar price tag himself, if at all.

This, of course, is all conjecture and speculation, no different that the Nashville rumors from last December. Wishful thinking, even. I make no secret of the fact that I’ve dreamed of a Sox Park in the South Loop since learning that it was a location being considered in the last days of Old Comiskey. A dream I’ve had for 20 years, since I was a kid going to Columbia College, walking to and from class up and down State and Wabash in a rapidly gentrifying South Loop.

Is this really happening? Is this anything more than another public relations stunt to leverage the state for public money? Is Reinsdorf actually serious about vacating 35th & Shields all over again? No one really knows.

But would anyone be surprised if JR made some back-room deal with the city and state for new digs again? I sure wouldn’t.

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