Redeveloping White Sox parking lots could be home run for Chicagoon April 6, 2021 at 12:59 am

We’ve yet to be convinced of Chicago’s need for One Central, the $20 billion development proposed for the space atop the Metra railyards west of Soldier Field.

Does the city really desire yet another developer-driven megaproject within the shadow of downtown, let alone one that would come with a $6.5 billion transit hub — billed somehow as boon to the South Side — paid for by state taxpayers?

While Landmark Development President Bill Dunn continues to make his argument for One Central, we think there’s a prime and largely overlooked spot for another big, stadium-side residential development project that could take advantage of its proximity to rail and transit.

And if done right, this redeveloped site could truly be a boon to the South Side: The 70 acres of state-owned surface parking surrounding Guaranteed Rate Field.

From parking lots to a neighborhood

The White Sox got a famously sweet deal back in 1987 when city and state officials agreed to build the team a new, tax-supported, $140 million stadium — and to demolish beloved old Comiskey Park — in a bid to keep the baseball franchise from relocating to Florida. The Illinois Sports Facilities Authority was created 33 years ago to build, own and maintain the stadium.

The new Sox stadium opened with at least two strikes against it: It was harsh and severe-looking — a ball of concrete at a time when new major league baseball facilities were being built to look like the traditional ballparks of yesteryear –and surrounded by flat surface parking, rather than a neighborhood.

The stadium’s looks have been significantly improved since its 1991 opening. But it’s still marooned in a landscape of parking lots equal to three times the size of Millennium Park.

And that’s largely because the White Sox and team owner Jerry Reinsdorf, though only renters, have successfully chased away any talk of redeveloping the lots over the years, thanks to a contractual relationship with ISFA that gives the Sox owner-like sway over the stadium, the facility, its concessions and its parking lots.

But that time is over. Finding a way to finally turn all that asphalt and concrete into a walkable, transit-oriented neighborhood with some structured parking and that great baseball stadium at its core makes good sense.

For that matter, the same can be said of the surface parking around the United Center. It’s a cash cow for its owners but does nothing for Chicago’s West Side. It’s time for a change there also.

Located within a short walk of the CTA’s Red Line and Green Line and Metra’s 35th Street station — and an Amtrak corridor running along the parking lots’ western edge — the White Sox lots hold the promise of becoming an exciting addition the city’s tapestry of neighborhoods.

Architect Philip Bess called for this approach in his 1987 alternative plan for Comiskey. He was right and time has only confirmed it.

Such a project would be of real benefit to the South Side, more so than One Central, which would be closer to State and Madison than, say, 47th Street and King Drive.

The ISFA didn’t return our calls for comment, but we’re hoping the city/state agency is having serious discussions about the future of this land.

We also urge Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot to hurry up and fill the vacant position of ISFA chief executive officer, preferably with someone who can make quality redevelopment of the lots a priority.

A success at the ballpark would mean a potential and much-needed win for the South Side — and the city.

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