SBD/May 16, 2013/Facilities

Proposed DePaul Arena Part Of Mayor's Grand Plan To Boost Chicago Tourism

DePaul's proposed arena will likely be the most controversial part of Emanuel's plan
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel today is expected to unveil a $173M plan to "build a 10,000-seat arena for the DePaul Blue Demons next to McCormick Place, couching it as part of a broader blueprint for boosting tourism, much of it to be publicly funded," according to Kathy Bergen of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. The program, dubbed "Elevate Chicago," includes "development of two hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues surrounding the convention center; the long-awaited launch of a redesign at the Navy Pier lakefront entertainment complex; and reconfiguration of a congested section of the lakefront bike path." The publicly supported arena, which is expected to "book corporate and convention assemblies, concerts, and civic and school events, is likely to be the most controversial part of the plan." A neighborhood organization "already vows a fight, fearing it will turn out to be a mostly unused hulk that fails to liven up street life in the neighborhood." Chicago Deputy Mayor Steve Koch declined to "estimate how many days per year the arena would be in use, noting there would be a ramp-up period." But city officials noted that DePaul will "pay rent and that they expect the center to break even." The plan calls for the city to provide $33M in "special taxing district funds to buy the land necessary for the arena project." The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, the state-city agency that owns McCormick Place and Navy Pier, will contribute $70M "toward construction from its bond fund, which is supported by hotel taxes, while DePaul will contribute another" $70M (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 5/16).

SOMEWHERE IN THE MIDDLE: In Chicago, Fran Spielman notes by shifting the focus to Navy Pier, Emanuel "draws attention away from those who have questioned his decision to use public money to bankroll" the project. The arena would "double as an 'event center' for mid-sized shows too large for Navy Pier and too small for McCormick Place." DePaul will "control revenues from the stadium’s concessions, 22 suites and 300 club seats, but only during DePaul games." The school also will have the "exclusive right to name the arena -- either for DePaul or for one of the university’s major donors, but not for a corporate sponsor." The city under the agreement would be "free to use the arena 24 times a year -- either for athletic events involving Chicago Public Schools, Chicago City Colleges or other public events" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 5/16). Also in Chicago, Mark Brown writes, "From the moment this idea was first publicly floated, I’ve said we have enough publicly-subsidized stadiums in Chicago, and nothing I’ve heard yet convinces me otherwise." Providing a "subsidy to a private university’s basketball arena is going to have a lot of people questioning the city’s priorities" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 5/16).
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