Impact of Wrigley Field Expansion: Struggle of Economics Growth and Culture Preservation

By You-Jhen Liu and Luz Zaragoza

Strolling around the Wrigley Field, you could see the fancy hotels, chain restaurants, and a 50,000-square-foot outdoor plaza with a large TV screen around it. Although everything looks modern and wonderful, it changed the neighborhood for some residents living there for more than a decade.

Overall Introduction to the story (Video By You-Jhen Liu)

The renovation and expansion of Wrigley Field, known as The 1060 Project, is the largest investment ever by any Chicago sports team owner. The revised planned development for Wrigley Field was passed by City Council on December 11, 2013. The development project included adding video boards, new rows of seats, underground bars, suites, new bullpens, batting cages clubhouses and diverse events such as movies in the park, farmer markets, and children’s programming.

However, do Wrigleyville residents really desire a standardized, gentrified and globalized neighborhood? “The congestion is getting worse after the expansion project,” said Kevin  Grossett, who have lived in Wrigleyville area for two years. People have questioned that does the expansion project bring more benefits than drawbacks for them or it may just favor the big corporations eventually.

More information: Timeline of the history of the construction project

Credit:You-Jhen Liu and Luz Zaragoza

The Money Came With the Huge Investment

Ald. Tom Tunney outlined the goal of the expansion plan on his website, saying it’s designed to boost year-round positive economic activity in the Wrigley area. With the new construction of the outdoor plaza next to the Field. Tunney’s office and the Cubs estimated the events on the plaza will flourish the local small business community throughout the year and provide residents the variety of events to enjoy. To be more detailed, Tunney’s office has further explained when the tourists come, they will tend to shop locally, dining at one of the many establishments throughout the Ward.

Moreover, the Cubs claimed the construction will generate $1.2 billion in net new tax revenue to the local economy over the next 30 years, excluding any direct dollars from taxpayers will be used to support the project.  

The owner of the Cubs, the Ricketts family, committed that with the investment of the project, it will bring more tourists to the Wrigleyville, boosting the local business and creating additional tax revenue for the city and state. Furthermore, the Cubs claimed it will create approximately 2,100 new jobs due to the project, boosting the economic growth of the local community.

In addition, John J Betancur, Professor of Urban planning and Policy, has explained why throughout this year, there are more and more renovations in Chicago. “ The reason that the government wants to invest in large corporations is that it will create more jobs.”  

Safety is also a huge concerned for most of the residents. To response their worries, the Cubs promised to work with the Chicago Police Department and its special police detail unit to assign additional personnel in the area during and after Cubs games or other events.

Circulating a series of the advantages that the expansion project will bring to the community, some residents feel optimistic toward the change but some people may not feel the same way.

Google Map of the local Business (Map by Luz Zaragoza)

The Competition Between Giant Chains and Small Local Businesses

Even though Tunney’s office stated that one of the goals of the expansion of the Wrigley Field is to assist the local small business, the reality seems to be opposite.

“You know that capitalism has changed, and now its dominated by oligopoly, There isn’t too much room for small businesses, although there are industries where small businesses are still more liable, as the technology industry. But in the traditional small businesses, there are very little opportunities to survive, said Betancur.

According to Mr. Jileni Ghunien, who is the supervisor at Citi Food Mart, located at 3355 N Clark Street in Wrigleyville, said: “During the season, most of the tourists will go to the big shops at Belmont Ave.” He added that only a few local customers will come to the small shop like us for buying the water, chips or cigarettes.

This is not an only single case happened to Jilani’s shop. A 10-minute walk from the Jilani’s shop, there is a small Korean restaurant called ‘Rice’N Bread’ located at 3435 N Sheffield Ave.

“This restaurant has nearly 60-year-old history,” said Jeab, who has worked in this restaurant for five years; however, with the rapid growth around the Wrigleyville area, Jeab found out there is a decreasing number of the customers. “The new tourists or customers will just go around the chain restaurant around the field.”  

What’s the worse part for these small local businesses in the Wrigleyville area? It is the surging of utility fees and rent.

“We cannot afford the high utility bills compared to the giant brand stores,” Jileni said.

Also, Mr. Grossett, the owner of Irie Jerk Bar and Grill located at 3404 N Clark St. claimed the fees of rent is increased. Therefore, the situation becomes more difficult for those local businesses to sustain.

Since the construction in Wrigley has generated several concerns to small businesses owners, the most important being, how capitalism has a major role in this phenomena change.

There are big retailers that can uprise small business because they sell higher volumes. “They import from places like China and Mexico, something a small business can not afford, therefore these businesses are not being included.” said by Pro. Betancur. Small business does not have the technology, nor the resources. And most of them are family businesses.

Businesses use culture in favor of their growth to create more money, but consumers do not realize that these goods are not actually from that culture but it’s simply Americanized. This creates a small business to close down more rapidly.

“For small businesses where you have cuisine, chef and a clientele that is willing to pay big amounts, these can survive in gentrifying neighborhoods”, said Betancur, “these are small businesses who are successful in competing against giants”.

When Capitalism Becomes the Mechanisms of Governing a City

But how exactly does capitalism work here in the city of Chicago?

“The government is with big businesses, for example in Chicago, there is money collected from neighborhoods where its invested in downtown- Tax Increment Financing. One example is with the neighborhood of Englewood, the poorest neighborhood, the government has taken money from them and invested to business strips”, said Betancur.

Not only does the government play an important role in making small businesses to shut down, but newer generations. History itself has a major part in new construction areas. It is the first generation population where the small business has more business. Due to its neighbors. They are used to those products from their hometown, therefore, they will consume products that they are mostly aware of rather than going to big chains. Later on, “as the second generation starts to grow up, these small businesses start to disappear since these individuals are not as tied to those goods anymore or as much as their previous generation”, said Betancur.

“Cities are not concerned about small business, they want to invest in large corporations where it will create jobs. It’s about money making, real estate, gentrification”, said Betancur, even if it means demolishing well-known businesses such as Taco Bell. It only benefits big corporations. Betancur suggested that the best way for helping the small business is that the government should sit down and talk to them, understanding what their needs.

The Taco Bell located next Wrigley Field would be closed at Dec 6, 2018 (Photo credit: Luz Zaragoza)

On an interview with Anais Alvarez, an employee who has been working at taco bell here for three months and unfortunately is closing down on Dec 6, 2018 replaced by a three-story retailer. “Over the fifty years, it’s a trademark of the Wrigley Field area. I have seen some changes in the Wrigley field due to the season is fall and we have fewer customers. But we still have regular customers who come here every day, it will be an inconvenience for them as we closed”, said Alvarez.  

“Most of the customers are sad because most of their family lived here”, concluded Alvarez.

Panoramic Photo of the Wrigleyville

Credit: Luz Zaragoza

Small Businesses and their Contribution

The construction of Wrigleyville will affect small businesses since they might close and will also impact that family since they won’t longer have a source of income. Small businesses should be helped by the government since they will be helping a family sustain a lifetime job. Small businesses,

“create jobs, pay taxes, they give life to a business strip, they keep property values, they are positive effects on neighborhoods,” said Betancur.

Small business will be gone, it is just a matter of time. The specific ones that might survive are those who have goods such as, “personal goods, such as cutting hair, nails, spa, great personal services, accounting-is disappearing since everything is done in the internet, liquor store-it is close to the consumer, restaurants-only those who have a lot of cuisine like Chinese, Mexican, Italian- but a lot are being taken away from chains”, said Betancur.

Wrigley Field Construction Controversy

Looking at how Wrigley construction has impacted small businesses has become a big controversy regarding if this new project will indeed help the community and its neighbors in a positive way by building new retail stores that will enable future jobs. It will create more attraction towards potential tourist which will help in an economic way. But is it just a trap, simply because the city only cares about making more money just like John J Betancur-professor of Urban Planning and Policy at UIC said.

Instead of creating Wrigley a better place for people to come and watch some baseball, this construction has created a lot of contention, where people are debating if this overall project will have a positive or negative outcome. What are your thoughts?


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