Plot thickens in quest for new DePaul basketball arena

Just two weeks after DePaul President Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M. introduced the university’s Vision 2018 plan at an event attended by alumni, faculty and students Sept. 14, a slew of reports came forth reporting that the school was in talks to move their men’s basketball games to a new arena.

Vision 2018 is a plan that over the next six years will seek to improve DePaul’s academic excellence, deepen the school’s ties to its community through the upholding of Vincentian values, and ensure a business model that will serve as a foundation for the continued strengthening of the university.

Included in the Vision 2018 plan is a subsection under Goal 2, which reads to “Deepen the University’s Distinctive Connection to the Global City of Chicago.” One of the objectives in Goal 2’s subsection is to develop facilities and a technology infrastructure that asserts DePaul as a high-class university and fosters a strong environment for its students to grow. And even further within that objective, Vision 2018 states it will “Seek opportunities to bring men’s basketball back into the city.”

For years, the men’s basketball home games played at Allstate Arena in Rosemont have become the object of much controversy.

One of the main issues for students and fans alike with the stadium is, quite simply, it’s a hike to get out there. While the fan buses that leave on game days from the Lincoln Park campus are expedient modes of transportation, the cold winter days of the basketball season deter many from even bothering to leave their dorms or nearby residences.

The idea of planning an entire day around attending a game, including transportation time, is usually too much of a commitment for the casual fan, which arguably makes up the vast majority of DePaul’s current basketball fanbase.

Perhaps most importantly, a strong tie to the city of Chicago is nary felt in the near suburban outstretches of the Village of Rosemont. With planes taking off and landing at nearby O’Hare International Airport, Allstate Arena can feel like a dead zone. Flanked by gray office buildings and endless highways, nothing is appealing about trekking out to city limits.

In addition, an arena with a distinct Chicago feel with a dedicated fanbase could be irresistible not only to local talent but athletes from around the country. The amount of national attention a ranked Blue Demon squad with bona fide stars could garner is unequivocal. Chicago is the third-largest market in the U.S., after all. A change of scenery could be invaluable to the team’s future success. A closer arena translates into greater fan turnout. Greater fan turnout translates into more confidence and support felt by the players. And maybe, just maybe, a confident Blue Demons team with fans backing them sneaks up and surprises the college basketball world and wins some games.

And isn’t winning what it’s all about?

So what’s the solution?

On Friday, a number of Chicago news outlets reported DePaul is weighing options to either play at the United Center and/or share a practice facility or, more realistically, construct an eight thousand to 12 thousand seat arena to be built in the South Loop.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported the school was in talks with Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf about possibly building a west side arena that could serve as a Bulls practice facility and site for Blue Demon home games. The 22,000 seat arena would be a considerable step up from the 12,000 seat Allstate Arena in terms of capacity, which could present financial problems if the house isn’t packed on a game-by-game basis.

At this point, the South Loop talks seem to hold more water. Per a report by Crain’s Chicago Business, an arena would be constructed near McCormick Place parking and a new CTA Green Line station, a site which has been proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

According to the report, the arena could be funded by “more than $100 million in untapped bonding authority” by the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, an agency known as McPier that owns and operates McCormick Place.

The report’s sources claim Mayor Emanuel supports the idea “because much of the Near South Side near the convention center goes dark when a big convention is not running, which is most of the time.” Though the area currently “lacks many good restaurants, bars and shops,” there’s no telling what plans for a new sports arena being built in the could potentially do for a new infrastructure, creating a popular destination not only for Blue Demon fans but Chicagoans at large.

In a statement released by DePaul, nothing concrete is confirmed but leaves the door open for speculation, which at this point would not be too far-fetched. According to the statement, DePaul is by no means uncommitted to their strategic plans. It reads, “One of DePaul’s goals is to seek opportunities to bring men’s basketball back into the city. To that end, DePaul will consider any proposal that will help us accomplish that goal. As of how, however, nothing definitive has been forthcoming.”

Obviously, whether there is any merit to these rumors has yet to be determined. This could all turn out to just be spinning gears with no endgame.

Let’s also not forget that DePaul’s current contract with Allstate Arena runs through 2016, so the plans supposedly in the works would still be a long ways away. Not to burst anyone’s bubble, but jobs like this certainly aren’t accomplished overnight.

But at the moment, the possibility of an arena being constructed to house the Blue Demons in 2018 is becoming less and less of a pipe dream. It’s still a waiting game, but we may not be in the dark for much longer.