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Lovable losers could be winners in Rosemont

Cubs would make more money and make more fans happy if they won Series on outskirts of city

David Haugh

In the Wake of the News

11:51 PM CDT, March 23, 2013

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A friend of Rosemont Mayor Brad Stephens now living in Las Vegas called last week to see if the buzz about his buddy the White Sox fan offering to help build a new home for the Cubs was true.

"He was like, 'What are you doing? You're a Sox guy,' '' Stephens recalled in an interview. "I said, 'I'm doing business. I am a politician. I can flip-flop, especially if the Cubs end up in my community.' ''

Kidding aside, Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts needs to seriously consider the plan an enthusiastic Stephens detailed to the Tribune. If obstructive Ald. Tom Tunney cannot get out of the team's way before its April 1 deadline to strike a deal with the city, Ricketts finally has a viable alternative. The proposal Stephens first shared with CSNChicago.com would give the Cubs a 25-acre parcel at Balmoral Avenue and the Tri-State Tollway to develop as they wish like a real private business owner. While Tunney puts the interests of rooftop owners above the city's, Stephens offers the Cubs an incentive-laden option free of government restrictions.

How refreshing: a politician who seeks creative ways to give the Cubs a chance to grow their business in a way that benefits everybody.

Preliminary studies by village engineers convinced Stephens it was feasible to build a ballpark on a patch of land in a tax-increment-financing district just outside O'Hare Airport and still have room for parking and a complex if the Cubs desire. The location includes an "L" stop and a Metra station, but Stephens got most animated describing the 250,000 vehicles on Interstate Highway 294 that would pass signage on the outfield exterior.

"The advertising revenue gets kind of silly over there,'' said Stephens, who would let the Cubs advertise to their heart's content.

Additionally, Rosemont would charge only a 3 percent amusement tax on tickets, compared to Chicago's 12 percent. And if the Cubs want to add night games that are more lucrative?

"I'd say, 'Here's the site. You tell me what work we need to do for you to get there,' '' Stephens said.

The Cubs should say thank you all way to the bank — and possibly up the standings.

Every Cubs fan who values winning more than tradition should root for April 2 to arrive without a deal. From a baseball perspective, it's a potential game-changer. New revenue generated from unrestricted signage, an increase in night games and naming rights to a new stadium — combined with the amusement-tax reduction — could reach as high as $100 million annually, according to industry estimates.

"That's four Josh Hamiltons,'' Stephens kidded.

Or that could afford the finest pitching arms an improving minor league system lacks. Immediately, Cubs President Theo Epstein would get smarter and the baseball inevitably better.

Ricketts' promise to win a World Series trumps any vow he made to remain at Wrigley Field. Mayor Rahm Emanuel might want to remember that upon returning from his spring-break trip closer to becoming The Mayor Who Let The Cubs Leave Chicago. Even Stephens acknowledged only "a slight chance'' exists that will happen. But it was impossible to ignore the mayor's office re-engaging with the Cubs and Tunney late last week after the emergence of a solid Plan B for Ricketts. Plan C looks like DuPage County. The Cubs would be fools to eliminate any plan if April 1 passes with no agreement.

If that happens, Tunney will bear the brunt of responsibility. He's hosting a game of Let's (Not) Make A Deal. The Cubs want to fund a $500 million development in his ward, but Tunney keeps prioritizing rooftop owners who poach the product. If Tunney's not careful, they will be left with great views of Chicago's most famous vacant lot.

When Tunney acknowledged in a statement that he suggested Wrigley replace its 76-year-old scoreboard with a video board to increase revenue, it revealed hypocrisy. Tunney clung to landmark restrictions when opposing additional revenue-producing signage yet would have no problem lifting them if it served his purpose? If the Cubs are willing to alter tradition structurally to that degree, building a new ballpark elsewhere portends more progress than a new scoreboard.

Stadium politics caused the Bears to flirt with Gary, Ind., in 1995. In the late 1980s, the White Sox approached suburban Addison and threatened to flee to Florida. Now the Cubs stand days away from entertaining an idea that ultimately would move them farther from Clark and Addison but perhaps closer to a World Series.

"The Cubs run a business,'' Stephens said. "If, say, Google isn't working out wherever its headquarters is, they're going to move someplace to maximize revenues. Why wouldn't the Cubs think about doing the same thing?''

After 104 years without a title, there are no dumb questions.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh