The Cubs want Wrigley Field to be a massive shopping center closed to vehicle traffic.
That’s not what they’re saying, of course. They’re saying that they want the streets around the park shut down on game days because of security concerns. And who could be against keeping people safe in these scary times? The answer is nobody.
But let’s ask a more pertinent question: Is it possible to keep everyone completely safe all the time? No, and to pretend that shutting down streets would protect fans only raises suspicions that what the Cubs are arguing for is profit dressed up as security concerns.
The team is demanding that Clark and Addison streets be closed on game days. City leaders are balking because it would mean that businesses and residents in the area would be adversely affected by what Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) calls a “four-square-block bubble.’’
The fallacy in what the Cubs are arguing for is that someone intent on doing harm will be deterred by no vehicle traffic around the park. There are 40,000 or so people converging on Wrigley every game. Those people will be bunched up somewhere, whether it’s at ballpark gates or at bars on Clark. A bombing anywhere in Wrigleyville would be the same as a bombing right outside Wrigley Field. Surely a terrorist would know that an attack in either place would have the same psychological effect on the city and on Cubs fans. Why can’t the team figure this out?
There’s a self-importance at work here that is truly impressive. Do you ever hear the White Sox asking to shut down the streets around their ballpark? How about the Bulls or the Blackhawks with the United Center? What about the Art Institute of Chicago, which had 1.79 million visitors in 2016? Because Art Institute officials haven’t demanded that Michigan Avenue be shut down outside their place of business, does that mean they don’t care about the safety of their patrons?
Either the Cubs are achingly concerned about their fans, more so than any other entity in Chicago, or they’re looking to build a foot-traffic-only theme park. Seeing how everything they have done is with money in mind (true, just like every other business), I’m guessing they envision a Wrigley World with water slides, Cubs-themed teacup rides and a Space Mountain, although some of these ideas might already be spoken for elsewhere.
The Cubs won a World Series last season, a truly remarkable event in a city that has seen a lot of remarkable events in its history. Team president Theo Epstein gutted the house and built a winner. As the winning ramped up, so did the club’s get-richer schemes. A hotel that will be ready in 2018. An outdoor plaza where fans will be able to eat, drink and shop. And, of course, increased ticket prices. If, for any reason, you think the Cubs are shy about making money, just know that they are selling 2016 ivy leaves from the outfield walls for $200 apiece. If it moves and has anything to do with the team, they’ll slap a price tag on it.
Into this feeding frenzy come the Cubs’ security concerns, which is why the more skeptical among us wonder if there’s an ulterior motive. They have every right to build whatever they want on their property, including an open-air beer garden that might take partiers away from other Wrigleyville establishments. That’s fair. It’s a free market.
But shutting off two main arteries would affect lots of businesses, and for what? I won’t drag out the we-let-the-terrorists-win-when-we-give-in-to-fear card, but the Cubs’ attempts to close streets on game days would put a smile on the face of the wildest-eyed true believer out there. Fear might be bloodless, but it has casualties.
A no-traffic zone is not going to stop a terrorist with explosives strapped to his or her body. Nor is it going to stop a crazy person in a car who wants to mow down fans walking to Wrigley a few blocks from the park.
The recent Manchester bombing happened when a suicide bomber blew himself up outside an arena after an Ariana Grande concert. The 2015 Paris bombings also happened outside a soccer stadium and involved suicide bombers, not trucks. If, God forbid, a terrorist attack were to happen outside Wrigley, all the street closings in the world probably wouldn’t have changed a thing.
If the Cubs weren’t turning every square foot of land outside the ballpark into a moneymaking operation, perhaps there would be fewer raised eyebrows about their intent on the street closures. But because they are trying to sell you something at every turn, feel free to raise that eyebrow just a little higher.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.