White Sox Park — better known as U.S. Cellular field and referred to by fans as The Cell — is a historic landmark on the South Side of Chicago.
The park was originally constructed on a city dump in 1909 by Chicago businessman Charles Comiskey. Three years later it was renamed Comiskey Park.
Throughout the years, the beloved park has gone through a ping-pong game of name alterations from Comiskey Park to White Sox Park and back again, until 1991 when White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf threatened to move the baseball club to St. Petersburg, Florida, receiving $200 million in public funding to break ground for a new stadium. After the old Comiskey Park was demolished making room for a brand new venue across the street, its naming rights was secured by U.S. Cellular Field until 2016.
Beginning in November, the Cell, a name that Chicagoans had come to embrace, will be replaced by a new one — Guaranteed Rate Field. One of the largest mortgage lenders, headquartered in Chicago, has found a sports home in the heart of the Bridgeport community.
Taking it all in stride is Illinois Sports Facilities Authority CEO Lou Bertuca, who oversees the operations of the ballpark and maintains a friendly alliance with their number one tenant — the White Sox.
The 31-year old Chicago native is the youngest CEO to lead ISFA, and moving into his second year, there have been some tremendous strides. The first major move is using the ballpark’s space for non-traditional baseball activities, hosting the first-ever music festival, Chance the Rapper’s Magnificent Coloring Day Festival on Sept. 24. and NIU Huskies vs. University of Toledo on Nov. 9.
“I don’t think it was a secret that this place hadn’t been used to its full potential. The Chicago White Sox played their home games here and then it was kind of empty year-around. When I got here, I wanted to end the drought. I wanted to bring more revenue into the park. So we had to figure a way to bring promotions here,” said Bertuca.
Growing up in the Northwest Chicago community of Galewood, Bertuca’s parents both working class. He said his father loved the Cubs and his mother loved the White Sox. “There’s room in my heart for both teams. Chicago Bears, the Bulls — you name it. We supported everyone.”
“The majority of our [ISFA] funding comes from a tax that we evoke for people who stay in hotels in the city of Chicago. In terms of pure appropriation, we don’t get our money from an appropriation body,” he explains. “It’s very complicated. We get our monies from state advance. We don’t have a Department of Revenue so we rely on them. So, we do have interaction with the state, but the majority of our money is not subject to appropriation by the state.”
This includes making sure that a good percentage of construction contracts got to minority businesses.
“Every year, we do about $10 million worth of construction. We have a goal of 30 percent of minority and women-owned businesses. We’ve exceeded that goal by six percent. We’re at 36 percent. You’ll be hard-pressed to find any organizations that have hit those numbers.”
Bertuca understands the long history of segregation that has gripped tension between the African-American community and some long-standing residents in the Bridgeport community, but he feels it’s a new day. The ISFA has an agreement with the White Sox to donate 2,500 or more tickets during the season along with donating suites for non-profit organizations to auction.
“We want to get as many kids here as much as possible. We have too many empty seats here. You bring a kid to their first baseball game, who are they going to be a fan of?”
With close to 42,000 seats, restaurants, additional field screens added and a wide concourse to accommodate thousands of attendees without leaving the building, Bertuca feels the venue is the ideal location to host major festivals and concerts like Chance’s Magnificent Coloring Day event.
“That’s another advantage for not just the facility but for the Chicago White Sox. From the Chance the Rapper event, you’re going to get people who had never been to this stadium to come to see this fest. When they come they will discover it’s an easy stadium to come to and get in and out of. They may come back to see a Chicago White Sox game or another show.”