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Chicago Teams Finding No Easy Route to Improved Facilities

May 03, 1987|KEVIN KLOSE | The Washington Post

CHICAGO — Ivy-green Wrigley Field, gritty Comiskey Park, grand Soldier Field, Chicago's historic palaces of professional sport are showing their combined 210 years of age--and the occupants are restless.

The Cubs, White Sox and Bears all have threatened in recent years to get better lairs or reluctantly consider finding new digs elsewhere.

One hot new idea after another has been floated as the perfect solution to replacing the aging facilities where, over the decades, millions of Windy City fans have wept, gnashed, hollered and occasionally fought as their teams dueled with out-of-towners.

The proposals have included everything from a new football-baseball stadium on the Lake Michigan shorefront downtown, to lights for night games at venerable Wrigley, to a White Sox stadium in the suburbs.

But so far, as in many other communities in recent years, every proposal has been met with a storm of protest from somewhere, bringing the efforts to a halt while teams or developers regrouped.

Meanwhile, as the NBA's recent four-city expansion decision makes clear, there are plenty of communities eager to roll out the artificial turf for a professional sports team.

Although Mayor Harold Washington and Illinois Gov. James Thompson have pledged not to lose any team, both the White Sox and the Bears have made it clear they want some answers to their demands pretty soon.

A state stadium commission will be named by July 1 to begin planning a new home for the White Sox, to be financed by private and public millions.

Leading the list of proposals is a plan to tear down Comiskey, turning it into a parking lot for a new, larger stadium to be built next door and ready for opening day 1990.

The idea of maintaining the White Sox in the Bridgeport neighborhood, an Irish bastion on the near South Side that has always welcomed them, appeals to traditionalists. But the thought of erasing 77-year-old, 44,087-seat Comiskey is anathema to many.

Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn, the team's owner and president, respectively, say that despite a recent costly restoration, the place is too old and decrepit to last much longer. Since they own it, they claim they ought to know.

Not everyone agrees that the White Sox plan is all that sound.

"My guess is that if the team doesn't improve, private investors are going to worry about getting their investment back," said Walter Netsch, president of the Chicago Park District and a member of the mayor's stadium review committee.

But aside from heading for greener fields in some faraway place, which they vow they won't do, the White Sox don't have too many other clear alternatives.

A carefully nurtured effort to move the team to Addison, in DuPage County, ran into trouble from environmentalists and residents of the western suburb.

A 140-acre tract near a planned expressway beckoned, but after months of controversy and a million dollars spent by the White Sox owners for their plan, a nonbinding referendum on the Addison ballot backing a stadium was defeated by 50 votes last November and residents of neighboring Bloomingdale remained opposed.

So much for the White Sox.

The Bears are unhappy with 62-year-old Soldier Field, where 65,790 screaming Chicagoans like to turn out in sub-zero weather to cheer on the Monsters of the Midway as the wind whips off Lake Michigan. The problem is money.

Although the team has a contract with the Chicago Park District through the 1990s, Michael McCaskey, the Bears' owner, wants a new stadium, soon.

Figures obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times last month showed that the Bears earned $2.05 million in their Super Bowl championship 1985 season, on $28.5 million income. McCaskey wants more, and has said he will move the team by 1990 if he does not get a new home.

Mayor Washington has vowed to find a solution, but his first suggestion, to build a brand-new playground near Soldier Field, offended open-space enthusiasts who are fighting to keep new buildings from the lakefront.

The proposal envisioned a dual-purpose stadium with movable bleacher sections that could be shaped for football or baseball.

Neither the Bears nor the baseball teams were interested. "There's no intimacy, which is needed for baseball," said one team official. "It doesn't work anyplace else it's been tried."

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