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Over the past few weeks, I have heard and read many opinions about the Cubs' latest plan for upgrading Wrigley Field. But from a business perspective, my organization, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, thinks the Cubs' plan is a no-brainer.
To be clear, we don't say this because we're all Cubs fans. Hardly. As you can imagine, the Illinois Chamber has members who love the Cubs, but many members are White Sox fans and others are Cardinal fans.
Our support for the Cubs plan is a matter of simple business interests: Wrigley Field is a gem that all baseball fans appreciate, and the Cubs are asking for reasonable changes to keep up with their competitors. They should be given the go-ahead to make these changes; even landmarks need the wherewithal to keep up with expectations and demands of the fans, the players and the industry.
Wrigley Field, now 100 years old, doesn't look at all like the place that opened in 1914. It has been allowed to build a new grandstand, new bleachers, skyboxes, various press boxes, signs and lights. The various owners accomplished these changes, large and small, with an eye toward meeting market expectations and changes, while keeping the soul of the park special - not just a baseball stadium but a ballpark that sits in a unique location offering a truly unique experience.
And Wrigley Field is a truly unique economic resource for the City of Chicago. The ballpark is the third most visited attraction in the State of Illinois, though open for business only 81 days a year. According to research by Conventions, Sports and Leisure International, Wrigley Field accounts for nearly 7,000 jobs, as well as $244 million in personal annual earnings. More than $638 million in economic activity is generated every year, from hotels, restaurants, bars, transportation options and the many other businesses that benefit from Cubs baseball.
The history of baseball is littered with the names of famous fields that were left behind in the pursuit of progress. Forbes Field, the Polo Grounds, Yankee Satdium, Comiskey Park, Ebbets Field, Busch Stadium and many, many others are now just names in history books and backgrounds in grainy pictures or old film. The team owners moved their clubs to new stadiums or new cities to adapt to a changing marketplace.
There is no question the Cubs know what they have in Wrigley Field. Rather than move, they ask only for permission to spend their own money to gut and rehab their own ballpark in a way that will keep it relevant for decades to come. They need amenities and signs in the outfield to help pay for this self-financed investment, and the Chamber believes their request is reasonable, prudent and worthy of support from the city and its Landmark Commission.
This is a purely private investment that will benefit Chicago's economy many times over. Employment, tax revenue, local spending and direct and indirect jobs will flow to the city, county and state.
Just as importantly, the ball park will still be Wrigley Field. There will be new bells and whistles, just as new bells and whistles were added in the 1930s, 1980s and 2000s, but it will still be a vibrant, unique ballpark. It will remain a place where modern baseball thrives in a historic setting.
We hope the Landmark Commission approves the Cubs' request to improve Wrigley Field so that an iconic Illinois business can continue to thrive, succeeding within an ever-changing business world, and so we can all continue to enjoy the fun of baseball at the corner of Clark and Addison for decades to come.
Doug Whitley is president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.