It’s a perfect summer day. You get on the train and take it to Ogilvie. Exit to the east, jump on a water taxi cruising up and down the river. Sit back for a few minutes and let your gaze linger along the canyon of buildings, the baroque bulk of the opera house giving way to glass and steel reflecting the sun’s riverine twinkles. Step off, and be surrounded by White Sox fans and tourists alike, ready to enter a gleaming new stadium.
Sound like a slice of heaven? Maybe too good to be true? Well, as of right now, that reality exists entirely in the ink of artists, the meanderings of dreamers, and the flashing dollar signs in the eyes of developers and owners. But with the renderings released on Wednesday by Related Midwest (the developers charged with transforming The 78 into Chicago’s newest hub) a new White Sox stadium is, if not concrete, at least no longer wholly speculative.
The new Sox Park — which, god willing, will no longer be named after a low-rent mortgage company — will be the anchor in a massive real estate project that looks to transform the stretch of the river between the South Loop and Chinatown. It looks to rival, and with a new stadium even exceed, the development upriver at Lincoln Yards. Filled with stores, restaurants, green walking space, and maybe even a good baseball team, this in theory could be Chicago’s new hot spot.
Now, of course, we’re really far from this being a done deal. The biggest issue is that of funding, as was pointed out on these pages not too long ago. Both Governor Pritzker and Mayor Johnson are opposed to using tax dollars to make Jerry Reinsdorf more rich, and Reinsdorf is opposed to spending his own money. There’s a reason why yesterday’s rendering release emphasized the (hypothetical) economic benefit the stadium would bring: $9 billion in economic investment! ... 22,000 new permanent jobs! ... 10 acres of community space ... $200 million in annual tax revenue!
I have no idea if those numbers are true, but the message is clear: The city and state would have to be absolute rubes not to pay for all this!
Assuming the money is found somewhere — which I actually think it will be, as drawings like these tend to make even the most scrupulous politician feel the allure of novelty ribbon-cutting scissors in their clammy hands — there’s no guarantee the ballpark will look like this. No plan meets the battlefield unchanged, and all that.
But I think we can assume it is going to be something like this. It’ll be new, it’ll face the skyline, and it will try to be a centerpiece of the city.
So what will that mean?
I was going to make a list of pros and cons, but honestly, all of these are open to interpretation.
- Super easy access. Not just boats! Walkable along the connected Riverwalk (part of the plan), you can also get there by Metra (Rock Island) and three different El lines (Red, Orange, Green).
- No more sprawling parking lots. The park has been in a sea of concrete, disconnected from the area (though it’s not like an arduous walk to Cork and Kerry or anything). The 78 is not exactly a neighborhood park, but it will be more integrated in the region.
- No more tailgating. While there might be parking across the river, the tailgating culture of the White Sox will subside. That makes me sad — the smell of 100 grills, the thud-thud-thud of beanbags, the laughter and yelling of thousands of little parties … that’s a huge part of my White Sox life.
- You’re going to see the skyline. While I do like being able to glimpse the lake from the upper decks, angling the park to the east is one of the biggest and most preventable mistakes made by the “new” Comiskey.
- More casual fans. At least in theory, it is going to be very easy for anyone to go to a Sox game, especially out-of-towners and other walk-up fans. I know there is something romantic about feeling like you know everyone at the park, and a lot of us take pride in it, but in theory the future of the White Sox is to be a Chicago destination.
- No more Bridgeport. This one hurts. It’s part of the White Sox identity. Luckily, part of the plan is to transform the area where the ballpark currently sits by adding houses and green space, making the (possibly new Fire) stadium part of a neighborhood. Why this didn’t happen before can be chalked up to a lack of foresight and a love of parking dollars.
Really, I think the biggest transformation is the mental idea of what it is to be a White Sox fan. We feel isolated, besieged when not being ignored, and frankly provincial. There are plusses and minuses to that, but it exists. The Yankees are a thing. The Red Sox are a thing. The Cubs are a thing. The Sox? They’re just our thing.
But moving the team to what is essentially downtown could change that. It’s not just our ballpark, it’s part of a mixed-use city showpiece. It’s a place where tourists will jump to. The Sox will be part of something beyond just being a part of our lives.
That’s a lot of emotional heft to come from a couple of renderings when no money, much less any earth, has been moved. Right now, The 78 is just an abaondoned patch, a marking on a city planner’s map. But it could be the future of the White Sox. And as always, the only thing we know about the future is that we don’t know anything.