The addition of a “Dream Team” front office to the Chicago Cubs is primarily about bringing a consistently competitive team to the North Side. An ancillary purpose – one that is also ultimately about improving the competitiveness of the Cubs – is to continue efforts to obtain public funding for some much-needed renovations to Wrigley Field.

In his introductory press conference, new President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein made pointed remarks about his experience in Boston renovating Fenway Park – with the assistance of the city – into something beneficial not only to the team, but also the city of Boston. While the Cubs’ farm system and Major League roster may be the most pressing concern, I assure you, the Wrigley Field renovations are on everyone’s mind at Clark and Addison.

But the plans may have just hit a slight hiccup, courtesy of the team on the other side of town. It seems the White Sox are not scoring popularity points for Chicago baseball teams who want access to public funds:

The Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, the government agency that built and owns The Cell, paid $3.2 million for construction of the [Bacardi at the Park] restaurant plus just about everything inside the place, from walk-in refrigerators to bar stools, the Tribune and WGN-TV found in a joint investigation.

Another $3.7 million from the agency went for infrastructure upgrades for water and sewers at the Gate 5 plaza that made the restaurant possible.

A 2010 agreement between the Sox, who selected Gibsons Restaurant Group to run the business, and the agency shows that at the project’s completion, the team was exempt from owing the agency any money. That arrangement contrasts with the management agreement for operating the stadium, which stipulates the team pay rent and make payments based on attendance.

The Illinois Sports Facilities Authority agreed with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf that the agency should not share in any restaurant profits ….

“Here we now have a restaurant for the fans of the White Sox, and we own it and we got what we’ve been asking for for several years,” said [Former Governor Bill] Thompson, who as governor signed the legislation creating the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority. “I’m satisfied. White Sox fans are satisfied.”

The Sox did not make Reinsdorf available for an interview and declined to comment on its relationship with the agency, “feeling that our (management) agreement is public knowledge and that any public comment should come from ISFA.”

An agency statement said “the final proposal that included no revenue for the state of Illinois was what was voted on and agreed upon by Chairman Thompson and his board.”

The investigative report, which is substantial, goes on from there. It’s a small amount of money (in the grand scheme of things), and the White Sox believe they’ve done everything above board. Still, the story is being received by more than one cocked eyebrow.

Now, as far as the Cubs’ efforts to get public funding for a Wrigley Field renovation, I could see this story cutting two ways (if it cuts at all). On the one hand, some folks might say, “geez, the White Sox got free money to build a restaurant and they don’t even have to share the profits with the taxpayers who gave them that money? If the Sox get that sweetheart deal, can’t the Cubs at least get money for something that does generate money for the city/state?” After all, this restaurant project sounds like a pure gift from the people of Illinois to the White Sox, with almost no upside for the State. With Wrigley Field, the upside could take any number of forms (repayable bond financing, increased amusement tax, etc.), to say nothing of the value reaped by virtue of Wrigley Field as a tourist attraction.

On the other, more likely, hand, some folks might say simply, “see, this is what happens when you give public dollars to private businesses.” This is, of course, a simplistic and incomplete view, but one that has a great deal of broad appeal, particularly in these financial times. Recognizing that, I’m not going to say much beyond, “thanks, White Sox.”



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