The Chicago White Sox haven’t always been the most thoughtful neighbors to Bridgeport restaurants, but in recent years, there have been improvements.
Rich Ortiz, co-owner of Antique Taco, points to how in 2018 the baseball team stopped routing all traffic toward the Dan Ryan Expressway. That allowed fans to more easily explore the surrounding area rather than speeding home down the highway. It took a community effort to convince the Sox to make the change, but it’s helped business, says Ortiz, a lifelong fan who fondly remembers visits to Comiskey Park with his grandfather.
“All of a sudden it felt better,” Ortiz says after the Sox changed the traffic patterns around the park. “There’s better synergy, people were prouder to be White Sox fans.”
In Chicago, baseball is divided by geography with South and North siders carving out identities. But while the Cubs have regional appeal, White Sox fans are mostly local, tied to the neighborhoods south of Madison. On Thursday, Oritz’s wife, Ashley Ortiz, told her husband about the news that broke Wednesday night. Anonymous sources told the Sun-Times that the Sox were in “serious talks” in moving the ballclub closer to Lake Michigan, into a development called the 78 near the South Loop. Developers market the project as an addition to Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods. The Sox’s lease at Guaranteed Rate Field expires after the 2028 season. The news ignites a familiar story for sports fans as owners begin negotiating to squeeze tax dollars from the government to help build a new stadium.
Thirty-six years ago, White Sox owner Jerry Reisndorf successfully convinced former Gov. James Thompson, also a huge Sox fan, to lobby Springfield officials for tax incentives to build the current stadium, which debuted in 1991. Football fans are seeing this dance right now as the Chicago Bears flirt with moving to the suburbs. As sports teams toy with politicians, small business owners, like the Ortizes, have to ponder their futures. The owners of Signature, a new sports bar opening this weekend near Soldier Field, are banking on football. Former Bear Isreal Idonije is one of the investors.
Rick Ortiz worked at Soldier Field as a chef, which is where he met Ashley Ortiz; she worked in events. He’s read headlines about Reinsdorf meeting with the mayor of Nashville, which led to speculation that the team would head south. He says it would be a “major blow” if the team departed — even if they remain in Chicago. Antique Taco sold tacos inside the stadium from 2019 to 2020. Ortiz says it was a great way to showcase their brand.
Huge developments, like Hotel Zachary across from Wrigley Field, are attractive for teams because they can keep revenue to themselves. The Hotel Zachary is owned by Hickory Street Capital, a real estate company owned by the owners of the Cubs, the Ricketts family. In places like St. Louis and Atlanta, developments have opened that feel like baseball theme parks. However, it doesn’t always work out, as in Detroit where the area surrounding Little Caesars Arena, home of the Detroit Pistons and Red Wings, has been razed for development that has yet to happen.
Sox Park is surrounded by seven acres of mostly parking lots; fans love tail gaiting. Beyond that, there’s an opportunity for Bridgeport to create its version of what the North Side has surrounding the home of the Cubs, says Ortiz.
There’s more buzz in Bridgeport this year as the Ramova Theater reopened. The theater, closed since 1985, hosted a New Year’s Eve event, and has held a few shows. The project also includes the revival of the Ramova Grill, a beloved neighborhood diner that closed in 2012. Kevin Hickey is a South Side native who runs the kitchen at Duck Inn. He says that losing the stadium would transform the character of the neighborhood. “Will it be OK? Emotionally and culturally — no, I think it will be a huge hit,” Hickey says of a potential departure. “People will be devastated by that.”
“But it’s not like the Cubs if they left Wrigley Field and built a stadium in Evanston — what would that make Wrigleyville? It would be catastrophic,” the chef adds. “You can’t say the same thing about Sox Park.”
Ramova co-owner Tyler Nevius adds that he looks forward to the summer when the space can be packed with fans wearing Sox jerseys: “We’re going to support the White Sox no matter what,” he says.
Hickey says the Duck Inn, which is also in Bridgeport, has never depended on baseball. The restaurant tried to lure some Sox fans when it opened in 2014, but it didn’t really click. Hickey adds the biggest impact comes from games when the Cubs visit the Sox.
Won Kim also notices a North Sider effect. He’s the chef of Kimski, the Korean American restaurant attached to Maria’s Community Bar. Kimski sees a little bump on slower days, say if the Sox play on a Tuesday. And that’s always great for a small business, but Kimski isn’t dependent.
He says North Siders will “try to kill eight birds with one stone,” using a Sox game as an excuse to do a food crawl through Bridgeport, hitting up multiple restaurants.
“Then they’ll tell their friends they’ve seen the South Side — all of it,” Kim says.
For Ortiz, worrying about the Sox isn’t a priority as the team’s final fate will take years to determine. It’s winter in Chicago when locals are worried about burst pipes and bad water pressure: “Luckily, we have a good plumber.”