Would Wrigley Field street fairs be unfair?

Last week, Chicago alderman Thomas Tunney critiqued parts of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Wrigley Field work-in-progress renovation plan, in particular saying that closing streets on game days so the Cubs can run street fairs there “would be a problem for the residents of my community,” and insisting that local businesses that sell tickets to watch the game from neighboring rooftops be accommodated.

This week, the Chicago Sun-Times reports that Tunney got $4,500 in campaign contributions from rooftop owners and $11,000 from a neighborhood business group that’s opposed to the street fairs as unfair competition the week before his announcement, part of $171,356.50 that the alderman has gotten from the businesses over the years.

You could say that this explains why Tunney is picking on these two particular elements of the Wrigley reno plan to squawk about; on the other hand, you could also note that as a local business owner himself (Tunney owns the Ann Sather restaurants, home of what I can verify is the world’s most amazing cinnamon bun), Tunney is likely going to stick up for his local business friends regardless.

In any case, there is a reasonable question here: Is handing over public roadways for the Cubs to use as retail space an unfair subsidy to one local business over others? (At least some of street-fair spending, after all, would almost certainly come at the expense of the local restaurants and souvenir shops that crowd the streets outside Wrigley.) The rooftop clubs seem to have less of a case — their business model is based, after all, on selling a view of the business next door.

A lot of this is no doubt going to depend on what the Cubs pay in rent for the street space, which has yet to be determined in the evolving negotiations. But it looks as if one major part of the inevitable fight isn’t going to be protecting taxpayer’s interests vs. making the Cubs owners happy, but rather settling the conflicting interests of competing business owners. Same as it ever was.

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