DePaul men’s basketball arena search continues


Facing a contract expiration with Allstate Arena in 2015, DePaul men’s basketball is searching for a new home back in Chicago.

Though new arena talks are still yet to be set in stone, a current expiring stadium contract and necessity to meet DePaul’s Vision 2018 quota are important factors that should get the ball rolling, with less implementation time every day.

“If DePaul wants to have its own, new building, that’s typically a two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half year process,” said Marc Ganis, president of SportsCorp Ltd., a Chicago-based sports business consulting firm. “Could be longer if there are environmental issues, but one-and-a-half [years] is standard for construction, six to nine months for approvals and design.”

A parcel of land just north of McCormick Place, the soon-to-be-vacated site of A. Finkl Steel & Sons Co. steelmaker west of Lincoln Park, and the United Center have all been rumored strong candidates for either the development of a new basketball arena or to house the team’s home games.

The most recent reported development involved DePaul passing on the United Center’s offer of 10 years of free rent. Ganis thought this move was a mistake, as the McCormick Place area is less viable in his opinion.

“Frankly, I don’t think it makes any sense to do the McCormick deal from a public standpoint. The Finkl Steel site is certainly more of an on-campus facility,” said Ganis. “If they’re gonna go to the McCormick Place, why not go to the United Center? It seems like there’s tremendous waste of additional capital costs and operating costs versus playing in an arena that is already a first-class facility.”

According to Ganis, the United Center deal is something that can be resurrected and put back onto the table. But overall, an on-campus arena would best serve DePaul’s interests.

“The two choices that should be looked at are on or near campus or the United Center. The idea of building a new arena near McCormick Place looks, on its face, to be a waste of land,” said Ganis. “It would potentially cost taxpayer dollars, and if there’s a big contributor ready to put their name on the arena, then build a more modest facility near campus so it can be used for more activities than just basketball games. That’s what seems to make the most sense.”

John McCarron, urban affairs writer and adjunct lecturer in DePaul’s College of Communication, believes the McCormick Place land can be an option, but would need to be part of a package. DePaul basketball as the arena’s sole attraction wouldn’t garner nearly enough revenue to keep the development a success, so the stadium and surrounding attractions would make it more practical.

A prime candidate to occupy some of the vacant area near McCormick Place is a city-owned casino, in which the mayor has expressed interest for some time.

“If you’re the mayor, when you look at DePaul, what you see is a tenant to draw a crowd for X number of home games,” said McCarron. “That probably doesn’t drive the economics of a stadium, but it could be a piece of a package.”

The McCormick Place property, which includes a 3.67-acre parcel of land at 330 E. Cermak Rd. and a 1.23-acre portion at 230 E. Cermak, was bought by Oak Brook-based CenterPoint Properties Trust, April 22 with a $65 million bid. According to McCarron, the area “wouldn’t interfere with the Loop and there’s counter-cyclical parking on evenings and weekends,” which would open up plenty of available parking space not taken by regular conventioneers.

“What would complement a convention center and a casino? Well, a stadium,” said McCarron. “That doesn’t make the economics completely work, but you could build other revenue generators around the stadium, like souvenir shops, bars and restaurants.”

MaryKay Marquisos, senior director of communications at Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (which owns and manages the McCormick Place complex), declined to comment on negotiations.

Other than the United Center and a new arena near McCormick Place, the A. Finkl & Sons Co. site has been another feasible development option. Relatively close to DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus, an arena in this lot would perhaps be the most beneficial for all involved.

Michele Smith, alderman of the 43rd Ward in which the Finkl site falls, could not be reached for comment.

“It would seem that it would serve the athletic department’s purposes best if they can find a location on or near campus, build a more modest facility and then potentially put their big games in a United Center,” said Ganis. “Similar to what the Philadelphia schools have done with Wells Fargo Arena, or what St. John’s has done with Madison Square Garden. Or go the route of Georgetown, who plays all its games in the Verizon Center. DePaul’s going to be part of that league, so why not follow the pattern of that league?”

DePaul released a statement April 17 explaining the current situation seeking the prospect of a new arena: “As DePaul has stated previously, we have explored a dozen different options and proposals and will continue to do so until we find one that helps us achieve our goal of bringing DePaul’s men and women’s basketball back to Chicago. Until we identify a viable proposal and make a decision, it would be inappropriate for us to discuss any specifics or details.”

“Something near campus is a win-win,” said McCarron. “I think it’s important for the school’s identity to have the team in an accessible area, especially if it’s part of DePaul’s plan to bring its basketball team back to Chicago.”