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Emanuel to announce $300 million DePaul stadium plan for McCormick Place

Updated: June 15, 2013 6:24AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is expected to announce this week plans for a $300 million 12,000-seat arena for DePaul University at McCormick Place — a proposal that will call for millions in taxpayer dollars, sources tell the Chicago Sun-Times.

The mayor will also announce plans to build two mega hotels on McPier property in the hopes of aggressively growing convention and meeting business in Chicago.

The tentative plan is for a “shared burden” of resources, to be divvied up among DePaul University, private sponsorship, taxpayer money that is in a McPier Bond fund, and possibly city tax-increment financing money, sources said.

Under a proposal that’s been floated, a portion of the taxpayer component would come from extracting existing money out of the McPier Bond fund, which has resources on hand from a 2010 bond restructuring, said a government source familiar with the proposal. The city-state fund is made up of local hotel and motel taxes.

Emanuel is expected to hold a news conference on the matter this week.

This month, attorneys with the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority have intensified discussions with landowners in the immediate footprint of the proposed development citing the arena as the main reason for the city’s interest.

Already, however, conversation was swirling over whether the intense interest by the city was tied to a future casino development in the area. The city would not comment on any aspect of the proposal.

“If I was a betting person, I would say McCormick Place is where you’re going to find a Chicago casino,” said an official who has taken part in development discussions. “I would guarantee you that’s where it’s going.”

Consultants hired to plan for the old Michael Reese Hospital site nearby — acquired by the city for $91 million to house an Olympic Village — recently recommended a casino as one possibility for that site.

State legislation for a Chicago-owned casino has advanced through the Illinois Senate and is pending in the House. Quinn’s office has warmed to gambling expansion but said it won’t be considered until the Illinois Legislature sends him comprehensive pension reform.

As of now, the DePaul proposal is expected to be pushed through on separate tracks, sources say, including state legislation that could be proposed this week that is necessary to clarify bond language with the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority. One source with knowledge of the plans said the existing language allows the bond fund to be tapped for renovations of existing structures so a legislative tweak is necessary to use the money for “future projects.”

Reached Monday, state Sen. President John Cullerton said he had heard only vague details about the plan and didn’t know enough to say whether he’d support it.

A source with knowledge of the proposal said one of the mega hotels is slated for the site directly north of McCormick Place between Indiana Street and Prairie Avenue. The other would be on the north side of Cermak Road, which is owned by Centerpoint, a huge industrial real estate property owner, sources say. The west side of McCormick Place, near Cermak, is the area tentatively being considered for the arena.

Sources familiar with the plan said the city would attempt to sell the proposal as not just a basketball arena for DePaul but as a place to attract mid-size convention shows that are too small for McCormick Place and too large for Navy Pier.

City Hall was tight-lipped about the proposal on Monday, however, after the Chicago Sun-Times first reported the arena plan, an Emanuel spokesman sent out a revised statement.

“Mayor Emanuel has stated repeatedly that a vibrant convention industry and the thousands of jobs it supports are critical to Chicago’s economic future. When there is something to announce, we will announce it,” said City Hall spokesman Tom Alexander.

“However, we can also confirm we are in discussions to create a state-of-the-art events center at McCormick Place, which would increase our ability to attract conventions and trade shows to the city, set up the city to host top-level sporting events of all kinds, and create many new opportunities for the Chicago Public Schools and its students. This will be part of a major, multi-faceted, coordinated effort to dramatically improve the convention and tourism industry in Chicago.”

Gov. Pat Quinn is ruling out any direct infusion of money from the state budget.

“We’re not discussing any scenarios where there would be direct state support. That’s not something the state can afford right now,” said Brooke Anderson, a Quinn spokeswoman said.

In February, the Sun-Times reported a 1,200-room hotel was planned for McCormick Place.

Earlier this year, DePaul turned down a 10-year, rent-free offer to move Blue Demons basketball to the United Center in favor of pursuing Emanuel’s plan to build a new basketball arena near McCormick Place.

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