South Loop residents concerned with proposed DePaul arena location

At a heated neighborhood meeting June 27 for the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance, many South Loop residents expressed discontent of the proposed arena location that will house DePaul basketball in 2016.

Tina Feldstein, president of the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance, led the discussion making clear that she and many residents did not approve of the arena location.

“We really don’t want this arena at 21st and Prairie,” Feldstein said. “We don’t believe DePaul quite frankly needs it there either Š—ê there’s plenty of options for DePaul.”

However, the opinion of the crowd was not unanimous.

 “You should acknowledge that there are other people who feel differently than you,” DePaul alum Frank Nowicki said from the crowd. I could find anybody in this room to tell me that you don’t think Cermak and Prairie would be in better shape with more people coming in there and more restaurants. All I’m saying is that I think you have to keep an open mind. I haven’t seen one drawing of what this building is going to look like and this organization is against it Š—ê that’s outrageous to me.”

Many residents interrupted Nowicki and yelled that he was wrong. Most residents appeared to side with Feldstein with a loud applause when she said the community feels 23rd and State would be a more appropriate location for the arena.

“21st and Prairie are both very small, residential streets Š—ê these are not major thoroughfares,” Feldstein said. “Massive arena walls are not something we want … there’s a need for vibrancy and ‘walkable’ retail.”

In a survey conducted by the neighborhood alliance, 70 percent of respondents did not support the arena and 75 percent wanted restaurants for new development. Among a long list, other concerns Feldstein highlighted were noise, parking, security, increased traffic and impacting area landmarks.

DePaul Treasurer Jeffrey Bethke emphasized DePaul’s commitment to communities through involvement in Lincoln Park and projects such as the University Center and the Blackstone Theatre in the South Loop.

“We think that we are an asset to the communities in which we invest in and we view this as an investment in the community,” Bethke said.

Andrew Mooney, commissioner of the department of housing and economic development, also cited DePaul’s potential impact.

“DePaul has proven itself to be a very good neighbor in the Lincoln Park neighborhood,” Mooney said. “Not only in security and other amenities, but also helping improve real estate value.”

Several cited safety as a major concern with the arena in their residential area.

“There’s been a lot loose and frankly hurtful talk about drunk college students,” Bethke said. “These games are going to be in winter, I don’t know why our students would wander into the neighborhood Š—ê they don’t do that in Lincoln Park or any other community.”

Bethke said the university plans also plans to continue offering shuttle buses for students, which would drop off and pick up students directly at the arena.

Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority CEO Jim Reilly explained the location as vital because the arena needs to be connected to McCormick Place for trade show convenience.

Feldstein said she wonders why the arena must be connected since there is also the Arie Crown Theater and McCormick Place West, which “sit vacant most of the time.”

Currently, DePaul plans to use the arena space about 30 times each year with 17 men’s basketball games, 10 women’s basketball games and three commencement ceremonies. The 10,000-seat area, also referred to as an events center, will also be utilized for trade shows, conventions, sports tournaments and concerts.

Location aside, residents expressed concern for the design of the arena. Feldstein showed pictures of other arenas including the United Center and Allstate Arena calling them “isolated and unattractive.”

Reilly said they are looking for a world-class architect for the project and will work with the community throughout the process.

DePaul professor and South Loop resident Matt Ragas was at the meeting to “listen and get perspective on both sides.” Despite a mixed reaction to the arena from DePaul faculty, Ragas said he thinks DePaul has a history of making a strong effort to be good citizens.

State Rep. Kenneth Dunkin who was in attendance weighed in on the “important dialogue.”

“This is not a done deal yet,” Dunkin said. “They have the ability to do this but it needs to be sanctioned by city council and the blessing of you.”

Feldstein said she looks forward to continuing the discussion towards the development plans.

“These two parcels of land are incredibly important to our neighborhood for many different reasons,” Feldstein said. “We have serious, serious concerns about respectful development.”