“When she tells me there are 22 caves in the Philippines guarded by 10,000 workers, guarding a treasure of trillions of pounds in precious gems and gold I do not believe her.”

Neither do I.

At the end of the 2008 season, the Red Line rivalry between the North Side Chicago Cubs and the South Side Chicago White Sox was tied, with each team claiming 33 wins.  Tickets went on sale Friday for their next meeting on June 16, when that tie will be broken.  But there’s at least one way that the Cubs have consistently beaten the Sox – the economic impact the team has on the surrounding neighborhood.

U.S. Cellular Field is surrounded by an ocean of concrete.  Source: Google Maps

U.S. Cellular Field is surrounded by an ocean of concrete. Source: Google Maps

In Wrigleyville, the informal neighborhood that surrounds Wrigley Field on Addison Street, game days mean a huge boon to businesses that surround the stadium.  As tens of thousands of fans flood the area, business surges at the restaurants and bars on Addison and North Clark streets.  But on 35th Street, home to U.S. Cellular Field and the 2008 American League Central division champion White Sox, fans don’t seem stick around after the game.

There’s not much reason to – U.S. Cellular Field is surrounded on three sides by 32 acres of paved parking lot, and is bounded on the fourth side by the Dan Ryan expressway.  Once leaving the ballpark, fans have to hike about a mile west to Halsted Street to find any dining or entertainment options.

Wrigley Field, on the other hand, is nestled amidst a densely populated neighborhood, filled with plentiful opportunities to separate Cubs fans from their dollars.

The International Association of Sports Economists, in a 2006 report comparing the economic impact of the two stadiums, said that this disparity was caused by treating the newer U.S. Cellular Field as a “walled fortress”, designed to maximize the amount of non-ticket revenue collected.  According to the report, the White Sox glean an extra 35% in non-ticket revenue per fan than the Cubs.

Wrigley Field, the centerpiece of a bustling neighborhood.  Source: Google Maps

Wrigley Field, the centerpiece of a bustling neighborhood. Source: Google Maps

But that’s all money that won’t be going into the tills at local businesses.

Another reason that Wrigley Field helps local businesses more than U.S. Cellular Field  is because of day games, according to the report.  The Cubs play twice as many day games at home than do the White Sox, which means fans leave the stadium in the early evening, rather than later at night when dining and shopping options can be more limited.

In a 2005 article for the Chicago Journal, Jeff McMahon said that a sensible alternative would be to develop those concrete-covered acres into a “Comiskeyville” neighborhood.  “A vibrant neighborhood on those 32 acres would not only draw fans to the stadium, it would encourage them to linger, it would attract visitors in the off season, and the land beneath those parking lots would make money all year long,” McMahon said.

The Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, the government unit that owns and manages U.S. Cellular Field, hasn’t indicated any willingness to change their game plan, however.  They even touted the completion of  a new 265,000 square feet of environmentally-sensitive water-permeable parking lot space in April of 2008.  The Illinois Sports Facilities Authority is substantially funded by a 2% hotel tax.

Sox fans do get one benefit from the sea of parking lots that their North Side counterparts miss.  Tailgating is permitted in the huge lots before games, while Cubs fans have to pay local merchants for their pre-game festivities.

That may be good for fans, but not for local business.

uscellvswrigley

Data taken from mlb.com and yelp.com

Here’s the thing — journalism is transactional.  You rely on other people to feed you information that you can use to write your stories.  In exchange, your sources get to draw attention to the things that they think are important.

For instance, if you’re writing an article about a new business, you contact the business owner or spokesperson, and they talk to you, give you an interview, answer your questions, or whatever.  In return, they get to communicate their message to potential customers, they get to get the word out about their business.

Or how about if you’re interviewing a politician?  Well, again, they provide the journalist with information, and in return, they get to have their viewpoints publicized.

Perhaps you’re doing an article about health food, so you contact health experts for opinions.  In exchange for their opinions, they get their names in print, which helps to build their reputations as experts in their field.

But if you are a student, working on, oh, I don’t know, a graduate degree, for instance, and your work is only being distributed internally, or on a private website, then the transaction breaks down.  The source feeds you information, and they get nothing in return, because nobody (or only a small number of people) reads the finished reporting.

So there’s no incentive for anybody to talk to you, unless they are motivated solely by listening to themselves speak.

When I was working for the Orlando Weekly, I could simply disclose my affiliation with the newspaper, and whoever I was talking to would take me seriously enough to answer my questions.  But now that the only place that my writing is showing up is on a private website, nobody can be bothered to return my phone calls or provide me with any kind of useful information at all.  Particularly since my beat is business, where everyone is busy trying to make money, and I have nothing to offer them in the transaction of journalism.

Frankly, it’s pretty much bullshit.  Maybe I should just call myself a freelance journalist.  That would get me more respect.

The beach at Loyola Park in Chicago.  It's thawing out, and starting to look really nice.

The beach at Loyola Park in Chicago. It’s thawing out, and starting to look really nice.

Today’s another pretty nice day.  It’s not as beautiful as yesterday, but still pretty nice.

I went and walked around a little bit in Loyola Park, which is actually my backyard.

It’s starting to thaw out, finally, and the park is really great now that it’s a civilized temperature outside.

I wish I had taken my camera out yesterday, when I walked essentially the same route.  There was an excellently creepy old snowman that someone built on the beach, probably a month ago.  It was dirty and melting, and standing in the sand with weather-worn gloves serving as his snowman hands.  The image of a melting, filthy snowman on the beach was kind of horrifying, in a nice way.

Alas, today, the snowman had melted away completely.

Birds use the melting icebergs near the shore as landing pads.

Birds use the melting icebergs near the shore as landing pads.

Click the image to see the slideshow.

cnyas1

timetoopenthewindowsIt’s beautiful today.

The temperature is something like 50 degrees, and all the snow that’s been covering the ground for the last month is melting.

It’s not spring time yet, but you can tell it’s getting closer.  It’s certainly a good day to air out the house.

I’m pretty much posing this so that I’ll remember to check it out again when it’s time to figure out what to have for dinner.

The Chicago Reader’s list of dining options in Rogers Park.
http://www.chicagoreader.com/rogers_park/restaurants/

So I’m trying to find lists of events relevant to my beat, and I find that just YESTERDAY Google decided to discontinue the public calendar gallery.

So much for that research advantage.

2/5/2009
We’ve removed public calendar search and the public calendar gallery. For details, please see: http://www.google.com/support/calendar/bin/answer.py?answer=139970