Chicago Blackhawks: Pros And Cons To New United Center “L” Train

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Oct 4, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; A general view outside of the United Center before the preseason game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago’s West Side is slated to add a new Green Line stop near the United Center to assist Chicago Blackhawks fans

On Thursday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced plans for a new Green Line “L” station near the United Center, home of the Chicago Blackhawks and Bulls, on the Near West Side of the city.

The new station, set to be located at Damen Avenue and Lake Street, will fill a mile-and-a-half gap between current Green Line stations along Lake Street at Ashland and California. The new stop will begin construction at the end of 2018 and is scheduled to open in mid-2020.

The new station’s purpose is to provide more adequate service to Chicago’s West Side and to the United Center, but will it provide the kind of transportation boom the city, Blackhawks and Bulls hope for?

Blackhawk Up writers Mario Tirabassi (pros) and Aaron Goldschmidt (cons) discuss the positives and pitfalls to the newly planned “L” station and what it will mean for the United Center crowds of Blackhawks and Bulls fans.

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Apr 30, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; A view of the Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita statues outside of the United Center before game one of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Minnesota Wild. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

PRO: Station provides easy access to United Center and West Side developments

MT: First, is the United Center in a bustling area of Chicago? On non-game days, no. It’s an area of the city that is driven almost solely on the success of the events that take place at the United Center on a yearly basis.

But with the new Bulls practice facility opening in 2014, the additional office, retail and dining space being built at the United Center itself, and the new Blackhawks community training center that is under construction just two blocks from the United Center, the West Side of Chicago is beginning to reap the benefits of the local teams investing in the area.

Rocky Wirtz, Jerry Reinsdorf and John McDonough want to make the United Center a year-round destination. It was clear when the development began on the new community training facility back in June of 2016, when McDonough called the new developments, “a huge win” for the neighborhood.

Adding the Green Line stop to provide easier access to the budding United Center/West Side is only a plus because it gives larger groups of people options to explore the future businesses and entertainment options in the area.

If the United Center, Advocate Center, the Blackhawks Community Training Center and the surrounding colleges and businesses all have easy access to and from the “L” train system, what is to stop the neighborhood from becoming the new “it” place to be in the future?

CON: The United Center is not Wrigleyville … yet

AG: Wrigley Field is unique in that it’s a professional baseball stadium that is burrowed inside a neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side. The stadium is surrounded by residential homes and a great local bar scene.

After games, fans fill the streets and stick around the neighborhood to eat, drink and socialize. The neighborhood is also a common hangout for fans to watch Bulls, Bears and Blackhawks games.

But the United Center is certainly not Wrigley Field. Built in 1994, Jerry Reinsdorf and Bill Wirtz partnered to build a stadium with 3,000 more seating capacity than Chicago Stadium. They picked a location west of Chicago’s downtown in the middle of Ukrainian Village and Garfield Park because the land was cheap at the time.

It cost $175 million to build in comparison to the Red Wings’ new stadium, rumored to be surpassing $600 million today.

Bottom line, it’s very clear the Bulls and ’Hawks would like to build up the neighborhood to make it like Wrigley, but it’s not there yet. There are a few bars down Madison and a couple of restaurants like Billy Goat Tavern and The Bottom Lounge, but people aren’t sticking around.

Maybe with construction of the new practice facility, more business will go up. The train station is scheduled to begin service in 2020, so maybe by then things will be more developed?

But knowing Chicago politics and the current pace we’re at now, we’ll see if any of these ideas actually materialize without raising fares and pissing off all the senior citizens again.

Jun 15, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Two fans enter the United Center before game six of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Chicago Blackhawks. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

Jun 15, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Two fans enter the United Center before game six of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Chicago Blackhawks. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

PRO: New “L” stop encourages more local attendance to games

MT: How much does it cost to ride the train? $5 round-trip? If you’re telling me that I can buy a Blackhawks ticket for about $75-$85 for the 300 Level and then I don’t have to worry about spending another $20-$25 for parking or having to park four or five blocks away to avoid paying that much for parking for the game, yeah, no question I will take that $5 train ride.

I live in Ravenswood on the North Side of the city. Driving to and from the United Center is a pain in my buttocks, and I don’t look forward to the drive going to a game or other events at the United Center.

If the “L” system had a stop that wasn’t three-quarters of a mile away currently, I would take it there and avoid the parking hassle and costs. I covered the Blackhawks prospect and training camps this summer, and finding parking around Johnny’s IceHouse stunk.

There will now be easy access on the train to games AND the Blackhawks’ and Bulls’ training facilities along with the United Center.

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Yes, hockey is expensive and an elitist sport. Yes, most of the time, the more well-off families are able to afford playing the sport and going to see the games more regularly. And sure, more often than not, those families come from the suburbs. Sure.

But if you give everyday fans and families, who may not have a car to travel within the city, or hate parking in highly congested areas like me, easier access to the United Center and surrounding area, all you’re doing is building the brand locally and giving everyone an equal stake in the team.

The Blackhawks’ success, while amazing — and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the sports world — has priced out the “everyman/woman” fan. The new “L” train re-opens that door.

CON: Most Blackhawks game attendees drive in from the suburbs

AG: The Blackhawks’ success the last decade has brought a lot of joy to the city of Chicago. Many of us had no interest in hockey until this team caught our attention with the fast, physical and exciting brand of hockey that was being played on West Madison.

But the fact of the matter is, many of the fans who attend Blackhawks games drive in from the surrounding suburbs and would have no use for the train station being built.

Hockey is a very expensive sport. The equipment, the ice time and the dedication to odd practice hours makes hockey difficult for average families to afford. Chicago also isn’t a city like Minnesota or Michigan where kids can skate on frozen lakes all winter.

Because hockey hasn’t been accessible or popular to inner-city dwellers, it has appealed to those in the suburbs who have the financial resources to afford it.

I’m not saying that all Blackhawks fans are from the suburbs. Blackhawks fans are everywhere.

But with the rising costs of going to games, many of us are subjected to the occasional game here and there that breaks the bank for us. You have to wonder who has the season tickets and is going to all these playoff games. It’s definitely not me.

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May 23, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Fans walk outside the United Center before game four of the Western Conference Final of the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

PRO: New “L” train eases traffic in an already congested area

MT: Lets say then, that a quarter of the people, or rather a quarter of the vehicle traffic, is eased due to local area residents taking the train from the new stop. Not even, 10 maybe 15 percent of vehicle traffic gets eased from the parking lots and surrounding areas due to people taking the trains.

That much of a difference makes it much easier to get in and out of Blackhawks and Bulls games moving forward.

As far as the “sketchy” vibe around the United Center after games goes, sure it’s not fun walking five blocks in the dark back to your car in a small group or even by yourself, if you don’t have the money to park in a lot.

But imagine, a few years down the line, when there is busier nightlife surrounding the United Center, restaurants and bars open after the games, leading to a higher amount of foot traffic in the area.

Not vacant lots. Makes the “sketchy” vibes go away and turns the area into what the Blackhawks, Bulls and investors and developers want that West Side neighborhood to become: a new business and entertainment hub in the city of Chicago.

I used to live in Milwaukee. Milwaukee’s downtown is scrappy, at best. (Sorry if anyone from Milwaukee is reading this, but we both know it’s true.)

The city is developing a brand new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks, and with it a new city center in the heart of downtown. The plan is to revitalize the downtown and grow the business and entertainment district back up and make Milwaukee a destination city again.

Imagine doing something on the same scale as rebuilding Milwaukee’s downtown, to boost a section of the city of Chicago. Pretty incredible, right? I think it is.

CON: Safety and infrastructure

AG: I grew up in the city and I don’t know a single person who has taken the train to the United Center. I know a lot of people rely on the buses, but I’ve never heard anybody using the Green Line after the game.

Making the station closer is a good first step, but the security to and from the train will need to be ramped up with CPD. Even though the neighborhood has come a long way, there still is a sketchy vibe around the UC after dark.

The CTA doesn’t have the greatest reputation for being the safest after hours either, without any attendants patrolling the cars. All I’m saying is that you couldn’t pay me to take the Green Line after a ’Hawks game, but power to those who will.

The other problem is the parking infrastructure. It’s absolutely terrible trying to get out of the United Center after a game. It’s late, everybody wants to go home, and nobody will let you merge.

But that’s because nobody is there to direct traffic. There are plenty of people at the start of the game directing traffic and taking your money, but after the game you’re on your own. If the city got some competent people to get the traffic to flow after games, we may no have this logjam problem.

Final thoughts

AG: Who knows, this may be something that works out. I mean, anything is better than getting off the train at Roosevelt and being herded like a bunch of cattle to Soldier Field, right? I honestly get to the UC a little bit early and park on Ogden and get right out after the game. But don’t tell anybody that. Seriously, don’t. You guys can take the train.

MT: I hope it does work out. I hope the West Side and United Center areas get the development boost they are looking for. I think adding the new “L” stop only bolsters that potential.

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