Could the Chicago White Sox make a move to Arlington Park?

Similar concepts have been pitched before. Here's how it could happen.

The festivities begin well before the first pitch and continue long after the final out, thanks to the surrounding bars, restaurants, hotels and parks that keep the neighborhood buzzing.

That's the case in Wrigleyville. But, it also could be a vision of Soxville should the Chicago White Sox leave the city and head to the site of Arlington Park racetrack in Arlington Heights.

Although no one actively is suggesting the White Sox are planning a move from the South Side to the suburbs, there are reasons to believe they'd be a solid fit for the 326-acre site that's likely in its final season of hosting horse racing. A professional sports stadium - perhaps for the Chicago Bears - is among the desired possibilities, and history shows a move to the suburbs has been on venerable White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf's radar.

The White Sox lease at Guaranteed Rate Field, owned by the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, ends in 2029. The ninth-oldest stadium in Major League Baseball, Guaranteed Rate will be 38 years old at that time.

A baseball park would fill a smaller footprint and be much cheaper to build than a $5 billion football stadium. Truist Park outside Atlanta, which opened as the Braves' new stadium in 2017, was built for about $600 million.

Plus, a ballpark would be used at least 80 times a year as opposed to eight to 10 times during an NFL football season, making it more lucrative.

As with the Bears, however, a move by the White Sox to Arlington Heights remains a longshot. A White Sox official told the Daily Herald, "We have so many years left on our lease that no one is really thinking past that at this point."

Arlington Heights Mayor Tom Hayes, meanwhile, is open to the idea.

"I've not heard about the Sox, but we're certainly including as one of the potential uses a professional sports stadium," Hayes said. "So whether it was football or baseball or something else, those are opportunities we think are very exciting and we would certainly consider as something we're interested in pursuing."

As a June 15 deadline set by Churchill Downs Inc. to submit initial purchase proposals approaches, it's a good time to envision what a White Sox move to Arlington Park might look like.

Armour Field

In the late 1980s, Notre Dame architecture professor Philip Bess was awarded numerous grants to fund his passion of designing a new stadium for the White Sox to replace aging Comiskey Park.

His vision was to build a stadium just north of Comiskey in Armour Square Park. At about 10 acres, the new ballpark would have fit snugly into the neighborhood and been augmented by new restaurants, shops and a variety of housing options.

Armour Field never happened, but Bess believes something similar could be achieved at the Arlington Park site.

With a Metra train station alongside the Arlington Park property, a new ballpark could anchor a suburban downtown landscape for Soxville. Bess would segment the 326-acre site into numerous blocks and streets, and he wouldn't allow developers to build anything too large, in an effort to maintain the neighborhood feel.

"Ballparks are better located in city neighborhoods and downtown than in a suburban atmosphere," Bess said, "but the fact that Arlington racetrack has its own Metra stop is a good starting point for making a mixed-use center."

Multistoried parking garages would be complemented by street parking. The surrounding streets laid out in a grid pattern would develop organically with the creation of residential, retail and other mixed-use spaces to encourage year-round revenue for the village and the White Sox.

Ideally, according to Bess, stadiums should conform to the existing neighborhood instead of the typical situation where the stadium dictates everything around it.

"It'd actually be nice if the (Arlington Park) site was constrained because constraints help make the ballpark better," Bess said. "You get a large footprint and you end up with every team wanting what the last team had plus 10%."

Stanford professor emeritus Roger Noll, an economist who specializes in stadium issues, agrees with creating an urban landscape at the Arlington Park site. He contrasts it with the stadium situation in Atlanta where fan access worsened with the move to the suburbs and the motivation for development wasn't as strong as in a downtown area.

"A racetrack is actually a great place to build a kind of downtown area because it's so huge," Noll said. "I'd be surprised if that weren't something (the village) has thought about doing."

Addison memories

As much as Bess and others tried to get his Armour Field plan in front of White Sox officials in the late 1980s, Reinsdorf was set on building something similar to Kauffmann Stadium in Kansas City where a cookie-cutter ballpark is surrounded by acres of parking.

Reinsdorf envisioned the plan in the mid-1980s only a few years after he and other investors bought the White Sox in 1981. Determined to leave Comiskey Park, he nearly moved the team to the Western suburb of Addison.

An advisory referendum to build a $140 million, 55,000-seat stadium for the White Sox was put in front of Addison residents in November 1986. The question was voted down by 43 votes. Reinsdorf gave up on Addison and, after threatening a move to Florida, he successfully pressured the state and the city of Chicago into financing a new stadium that opened in 1991 next to soon-to-be-demolished Comiskey Park.

Instead of following the lead of Bess, whose vision set the stage for "retro" ballparks such as Camden Yards in Baltimore, Reinsdorf basically brought the Addison plan to the South Side and endured years of ridicule from fans who criticized everything from the blue seats to an upper deck that seemed closer to the moon than the field.

Despite millions of dollars spent in recent years to make the current ballpark more cozy, Bess still believes the White Sox missed out on an opportunity in the 1980s by settling on a cavernous ballpark with 70 acres of parking lots.

"Urbanistically, it's been kind of a catastrophe," Bess said. "The White Sox really wanted the surface parking available, but it takes city blocks out of use for more productive uses. It also doesn't provide much for a city revenue stream because cities don't tax land. They tax improvements on land."

Northwest Suburban Hitmen

How would White Sox fans react to a move to Arlington Heights?

The "Northwest Suburban Hitmen" simply doesn't have the same ring as the "South Side Hitmen" slogan from the 1970s. The White Sox even recently unveiled alternate jerseys they'll be wearing this month with "Southside" written on the front.

The South Side mentality starts at 35th and Shields, but the blue-collar, hard-nosed attitude extends throughout White Sox Nation.

Can you take the White Sox out of the South Side without taking the South Side out of the White Sox? Brett Ballantini, the managing editor of the South Side Sox website, sees it both ways.

While he recognizes a chunk of the team's identity is lost without the South Side attachment, he thinks die-hard fans would remain loyal and a new fan base could be created in the suburbs.

"It complicates things a little," Ballantini said. "I guess it would be kind of puzzling to the fan base because there's been 120 years of South Side identity. But ultimately it's still your team.

"I don't think you shake the tradition and the background that made the White Sox, but it weakens some bonds going forward," he said.

It's all speculation, of course.

Reinsdorf, 85, has said he wants his sons to sell the team after he dies, but recent reports have indicated his sons may keep the team and are seeking to buy additional shares of the franchise Forbes estimates to be worth $1.7 billion.

The future of the White Sox, and of Soxville, won't be decided until the ownership situation is settled.

"It really just comes down to money for these guys," Ballantini said. "I don't feel like they'd feel compelled to move or change, but if a new sweetheart situation came along, I think they'd at least consider it."

• Daily Herald staff writers Scot Gregor and Christopher Placek contributed to this report.

Integrating a baseball stadium into the existing neighborhood was a key design feature for Notre Dame architecture professor Philip Bess, who designed a new Chicago White Sox stadium in the late 1980s to replace Comiskey Park. Courtesy of Philip Bess
Notre Dame architecture professor Philip Bess designed this Chicago White Sox stadium in the late 1980s to replace Comiskey Park, but the team went with a different design. Bess believes a similar neighborhood-based baseball stadium could work for the Arlington Park racetrack site. Courtesy of Philip Bess
Philip Bess, a Notre Dame architecture professor, designed a new Chicago White Sox stadium in the late 1980s to replace Comiskey Park, but the White Sox went with a different design for what is now Guaranteed Rate Field. Courtesy of Philip Bess
Unless Churchill Downs Inc., which owns Arlington Park, sells to another horse racing entity or a sale falls through, this is expected to be the final season for the iconic venue. File photo
Comiskey Park, left, is dwarfed by a new stadium in this 1990 photo. The new Chicago White Sox stadium opened in 1991. File photo
An artist's rendering from 1986 shows a proposed new White Sox stadium in Addison. Daily Herald File Photo
Then-Addison Village President Anthony Russotto wears a Chicago White Sox cap in 1986 during the team's attempt to move to the Western suburb. Daily Herald File Photo
The Chicago White Sox will wear these alternate uniforms this month as a tribute to the stadium's neighborhood. Would the "South Side" identity be lost with a move to the suburbs? Courtesy of Chicago White Sox
Notre Dame architecture professor Philip Bess was commissioned in the 1980s to design a baseball stadium to replace aging Comiskey Park, but the Chicago White Sox chose a different design for what is now Guaranteed Rate Field. Courtesy of Philip Bess
The profile of the Chicago White Sox stadium designed by Notre Dame architecture professor Philip Bess in the 1980s looks much different from the design the White Sox chose. Courtesy of Philip Bess
In the 1980s design for a new Chicago White Sox stadium, Notre Dame architecture professor Philip Bess kept a community baseball field in the same footprint where Comiskey Park existed. Courtesy of Philip Bess
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