Let’s play “You’re the Chief Executive.” Here’s your stumper for today:
The owners of two of Chicago’s major league sports franchises approach you.
One franchise, a consistent winner, wants to build a new stadium in a sadly neglected area full of vacant lots and crumbling slum tenements. This plan would allow you to clear the ugly, uncomfortable current stadium, with its grossly inadequate parking and traffic capabilities, off of lakefront Park District land that it never should have been built on in the first place. All the team wants from the city and state are some basic infrastructure improvements–sewers, street work, water mains–that the area it wants to move to sorely needs anyway. The team proposes to pay for the stadium itself, with what would amount to a loan from the state: bonds would be issued through the state’s bonding authority, and the franchise would retire the bonds and own the stadium, taking responsibility for maintenance and so forth. The actual expenditure of public funds would be maybe $30 million. The handful of families who would be displaced could easily be relocated nearby in much better housing than they have now, and a lot of currently useless land would be back on the tax rolls.
The second franchise hasn’t won a championship in 30 years and suffers from dwindling attendance and pathetic TV ratings brought on by a series of management blunders (such as taking the team off free TV and chasing out the popular and legendary play-by-play man, who promptly became even more popular and legendary with the crosstown competition). The owners of this juggernaut say its current stadium, popular with its fans and celebrated by sports buffs around the country as a historic treasure, is crumbling. When engineering studies and city inspectors fail to confirm that claim, the owners retreat to simply saying the stadium “has reached the end of its useful life,” largely because it cannot support more than a few dozen “skyboxes” to be rented out at fabulous profits to corporate and wealthy suburban clients.
So, these owners say, the taxpayers must build a new stadium, wiping a tidy, working-class bungalow neighborhood from the map in favor of parking lots, or else the team will move to a Sun Belt city that is building a new domed stadium. The tab: at least $150 million in public funds up front, not to mention the fact that the state would own the stadium and have responsibility for maintaining it. The team would pay rent, unless their attendance was lousy (as it has been recently, for instance), in which case they’d be off the hook altogether.
(A) tell the second team to be sure and write, claim their stadium by eminent domain or make a new stadium site available, and invite all the rich sports nuts around the country who would love a baseball team to play with to put an expansion team in there, as has been done several times in other cities in recent decades;
(B) welcome the first team’s offer with open arms, invite neighborhood representatives to help negotiate the relocation of those who would be displaced, make sure that the infrastructure improvements benefit the whole area and not just the new stadium, and dedicate the site of the old stadium as a new lakefront park;
(C) dismiss the owners of both teams from your presence, since the state has better things to do with public funds than build new playgrounds for overpaid athletes and the wealthy businessmen who get wealthier employing them (for instance, $150 million could do wonders for that depressed slum neighborhood that the first team wants to clear for a stadium); or
(D) ram through the legislature a $150 million bond issue for the second team as the city’s schools get the shaft (again), and let the first team’s offer twist in the wind until it gets stalled by rising interest rates.
If you guessed (D), you’re ready. Report to the governor’s mansion immediately.