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Waiting for a new stadium? Don’t hold your breath

There are reasons to doubt an announcement is coming in the near future

The sun hasn’t set on Sox Park quite yet.
| Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

What a disaster it is, all of the things that have befallen the White Sox fanbase over the last several years. It feels as if more of us than not have at least begun to come to grip with the fact that we probably won’t see a competitive Sox team on the field until late in the decade at best.

Now, as the team’s lease on Guaranteed Rate Field moves into its final five years, early proposals from the team of a state-of-the-art (for real this time!) stadium in a pretty attractive location are providing the most hope and excitement for the organization since the now-halcyon days of 2021.

Unfortunately, hope and excitement is all in might be. Unfortunately, there are reasons to believe that concrete plans for a new stadium aren’t as close to going public as it might appear.

It does mean something that the team is starting to aggressively push for a new stadium, and based on the statements that have been put forth by the team both directly and through the media, it’s easy to throw support behind it. Just as importantly, the idea that an exciting new ballpark might be right around the corner is something to keep us going while the team is borderline-unwatchable.

And it could happen. There’s going to be a lot of talking about it in the coming years.

New Comiskey Park Construction
Guaranteed Rate Field turns 33 years old in 2024.
SetNumber: X39940 TK2 R2 F32

But the ancient principle of media studies holds as true as ever when it comes to these conversations: Consider the source. In a word, the relative silence of the city, county, and state governments as it relates to these proposals is deafening. Unless you believe that Jerry Reinsdorf has suddenly decided that he’s OK footing most of the bill for such a project, a new stadium isn’t happening without a substantial financial commitment from the government, and it’s not the kind of commitment that materializes without a lot of public discourse going into it.

To this point, we’ve received virtually no indication that the required political process to make a new stadium happen is underway — or at least, has any kind of serious momentum. Personally, Mayor Brandon Johnson noting to City Council this week that he had a “very positive” meeting with Reinsdorf doesn’t register too strongly. If anything, it’s an indication that the process has hardly started. Until there are actual numbers being floated — how much is this thing going to cost, and how much of it is going to be paid for by the public — there’s simply no reason to believe a concrete announcement is coming anytime soon.

“We have not gotten into the intricacies and the details just yet.” Johnson said. “There’ll be time for that.”

That sounds like someone who hasn’t gotten around to planning their next date night yet. Not someone particular close to announcing a deal that’s likely to involve hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money.

Given the laundry list of urgent issues that the Mayor’s office is concerned with at this time, including but not limited to a substantial housing and refugee crisis, the ongoing collapse and incompetence of public services such as the CTA and CHA, and planning for what’s expected to be a fraught Democratic National Convention this summer, getting into the nitty-gritty on building a new baseball stadium simply isn’t as high of a priority as anyone with the White Sox would like us to think. It’s great that a few local alders were reportedly impressed by the scope of the team’s proposal, but they aren’t in a position to have too much sway over the decision-making that actually matters over a project of this size.

Governor J.B. Pritzker joins the White Sox in 2021
Governor J.B. Pritzker joins the White Sox in 2021.
Ron Vesely/Getty Images

Johnson hasn’t said much to explicitly indicate his broader philosophy towards public stadium subsidies, but the kind of deal Reinsdorf seems likely to propose would be extremely difficult to square away with the remainder of his political platform, which is considerably less friendly to corporate development projects than the predecessors under whom Guaranteed Rate Field and the United Center were built. What’s more important than that, however, is the fact that Governor J.B. Pritzker’s feelings on the matter are quite clear, having already shot down any possibility of funding a new stadium for the Bears, another mess that Johnson already has his hands full with.

“Nobody’s made an ask yet,” Pritzker said earlier this month concerning the White Sox proposal. “Having said that, I think you know my views on privately owned teams, and whether the public should be paying for private facilities that will be used for private business.”

It’s possible to make things happen without the city government. In the wake of the turmoil surrounding Harold Washington’s death in 1987, it was almost entirely a push from the governor Jim Thompson that stopped the team from moving to Florida. This time, though, the governor isn’t particularly invested in getting a deal done, and the vague threat of Nashville is exponentially less coercive than that of St. Petersburg 40 years ago. Beyond the Governor’s office, the substantial amount of Tax Increment Funding (TIF) dollars slated for use in development of The 78 (the site of the proposed stadium) means that any project on the site will need the strong support of the Mayor. Even in the best of times, there are an impossible number of moving parts to these deals. The fact that Pritzker and Johnson themselves seem to not yet have anything concrete tells us all we need to know as far as how short or long we can expect this timeline to be.

It’s a fun idea, to be sure. If it’s paid for properly and the public gets its appropriately cut, I’d be relatively on board with it, if one becomes a fatalist that it’s bound to happen on the public dime. But it’s a project that’s much, much bigger than the Sox and their fandom. Looking outside the scope of that fandom and considering the broader implications, it’s hard to read this as much more than the team (as usual) doing all they can to distract their fans from another year of poor baseball and a dysfunctional organization.

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