Cubs’ Sheffield street fair idea not a hit with alderman, merchants

BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter/fspielman@suntimes.com

Wrigleyville merchants and their local alderman are reacting coolly to the Cubs’ plan to close down a block-long stretch of Sheffield Avenue for nine days this season to make way for a family-friendly, inter-active street fair.

The idea is to duplicate for the three biggest series of the season — June 17-19 against the Yankees, July 1-3 against the Sox and Aug. 19-21 against the Cardinals — the carnival atmosphere created last year during the Allstate College Football Classic between Northwestern and the University of Illinois.

It was the first college football game at Wrigley since 1938 and the Cubs marked the occasion with an event that closed down Sheffield between Waveland and Addison.

The interactive street fair boosted concession sales for the Levy Organization and featured such family-friendly activities as face-painting and a football toss. Fans did not need tickets to the game to participate.

Now, the Cubs want the go-ahead from City Hall to hold a similar street fair for nine day during the upcoming baseball season. Inter-active events might include meeting past and present players, a pitching contest and a singing competition for the seventh-inning stretch.

But, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) is essentially saying, “Not so fast.”

“We did a one-day special event around the football game. But, it was meant to be a one-day event. It wasn’t meant to show that we want to do this on a regular basis. And the idea of three days [at a time] is something I don’t want to set a precedent for,” Tunney said Monday.

“People who live near Wrigley know it’s an entertainment area. But there are a lot of festivals and parades here through the summer. That, combined with the Cubs season makes it a concern to have more. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to even consider this closing.”

Gus Isacson, executive director of the Central Lakeview Merchants Association, said he “might entertain” a test run for one of the three series. But, he’s not prepared to sign on to all nine days without first seeing the impact on local merchants.

“If 500 Cubs fans come to the street fair who would not otherwise have been here, maybe then I would support it. But, if we’re gonna split the pie with the same number of people, then I have brick-and-mortar stores that need the business. This could take away from them,” Isacson said.

Wally Hayward, Cubs executive vice-president for sales and marketing, argued that the street fair that accompanied the Nov. 20 football game drew rave reviews.

“It was the biggest day for local businesses. The bars and restaurants around Wrigley had better numbers than opening day,” Hayward said.

“We believe this is good for local businesses. Families who would typically come just before the game would come earlier to try out some of the inter-active elements on the street. The goal is to provide a fan experience — whether you have a ticket to the game or not.”

What happens if the street fairs are a hit with fans and local merchants? Would the Cubs seek to make it a more permanent feature?

“We’re looking at three series for this season. We have no plans to do more,” Hayward said.

The Cubs’ long-stalled plan to develop the so-called triangle building adjacent to Wrigley Field includes a plan to turn the street in between into a Fenway Park-style pedestrian promenade bustling with shops and restaurants. But, fans would need tickets to gain entry to the street.



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