DePaul’s Theatre School architects’ glass design chosen for arena

Pelli Clark Pelli Architects, the architecture firm that designed DePaul’s Theatre School, was selected Sept. 23 to construct DePaul’s new basketball arena.

The firm was awarded a $7.2 million contract for its glasswalled design, the Chicago Tribune reported. Pelli Clark Pelli Architects (PCPA) were one of six firms in the running, and was chosen by the board of Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (McPier).

“We liked their conceptual design best. In some ways, it’s as simple as that, ” DePaul president F.R. Dennis Holtschneider said. “Pelli Clarke Pelli immediately rose to fore when I looked at them individually, and I was pleased to know that was true for mostly everybody in the process. This was a pretty unanimous decision.”

McPier’s voting board took into consideration the voices of a nine-member panel composted of three members from McPier, DePaul and the city. The nine-member committee was also advised by three veteran architects on what to look for.

Holtschneider wasn’t a member of the nine-member panel, but was kept up in the process the entire time. Heading into the meetings, Holtschneider said that the design needed to serve the purpose of promoting a first-rate experience of DePaul basketball and uniquely say something about the city of Chicago.

During the meeting, PCPA addressed key points crucial to the nine-member panel. DePaul athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto, who was one of three of the university’s representatives, mentioned the firm’s preparation and design made them the best available option.

“For me, I really was impressed with the Pelli presentation,” Ponsetto said. “They talked about fit. They talked about fit with all the potential users of the facility. They did a really good job of being very comprehensive of who all the end users were going to be, and being sensitive to the neighborhood. They very much wanted to have a building that was a compliment to the McCormick Place campus.”

The university’s previous relationship with PCPA did not influence the panel in choosing the firm, both Ponsetto and Holtschneider said. For DePaul, working with PCPA was an added bonus, Holtschnedier said, but the college would have gone with a different firm if they had liked a better conceptual design.

Pictures of the proposed design were released and the 10,000-seat building has a lowroof design with glass walls surrounding the building. The glass-walls address community concerns that the site would be a closed “black-box.”

On the inside of the arena, the court is located below while the seats surround the floor in a bowl-like shape. This was designed for people to find their seats easier and have a better view of the action.

“(The design) has a real classy, light presence that we thought was nicely in dialogue with the convention center, and worked well with the neighborhood to the north of it,” Holtschneider said.

Said Ponsetto, “I thought the building had a really elegant and stately design. I really feel like if Chicago is going to be a future host site of the Olympics, I think this is exactly the type of building that would be attractive to any committee that would come here and evaluate the types of facilities that Chicago has available for the summer Olympics.”

The conceptual design, however, isn’t exactly set in stone.

Holtschneider said that adjustments for technical areas such as how to scale the locker rooms or setting up an area for the media could be tweaked, as the construction gets underway.

Also, the neighborhood will now get its say in the process. So far, members of the South Loop have largely been ignored. Community meetings will be held so that members of the area can provide their feedback on the design.

Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance President Tina Feldstein is one of the residents highly upset with the current design. In an interview with The DePaulia, Feldstein said that McPier went with the design that best fit in with the surrounding buildings and have ignored the traffic problems the building will create.

“How are you going to get 10-15,000 people in and out of a building with very little access?” Feldstein asked. “We are unhappy that this is so forced. Now, how can you make lemonade out lemons?”

Among the concerns, Feldstein worries about the limited availability of parking. She and other community members want the neighborhood to be blocked off so that cars cannot take short cuts and park on the streets.

“Frankly I feel for the neighbors on this,” Holtschneider said. “The neighbors live right next to the Soldier Field too, and every time there is a game – as much as they try to keep parkers out – it’s a challenge for them. I feel for them, and I’ll be supportive for whatever we can do in that regard.”

Besides changes to the conceptual designs, there are other areas that need to be addressed. One of them is the fact the arena still needs a name. Holtschneider told The DePaulia that the process has begun for finding sponsors by hiring a consulting firm to evaluate the best possible fits.

“You always want a sponsor whose reputation furnishes your own reputation,” he said. “So at this point, that’s the only (requirement) I would put on it.”

Another need for DePaul is to figure out a bus route to commute from the games. Holtschneider indicated that the bus route will pick up commuters from the proposed Green Line, located at the McCormick Place, but exact specifics of it need to be sorted out.

For McPier and the city, there is also the process of acquiring the land. In July, McPier filed a lawsuit under eminent domain, which allows the government to take possession of property as long as the court sees a significant public use, for the proposed site of the accompanying hotel across the street.

The land that the arena will be on still needs to be purchased. At this time, no lawsuit has been filled and negotiations to purchase the land are still ongoing.

The $173 million arena is still on track to open for the 2016- 2017 college basketball season, where it will be used as both a basketball arena and multi-purpose events center.

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