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Near South Side residents warming up to DePaul arena plan

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Updated: March 3, 2014 5:01PM



Near South Side residents and their local alderman are warming to the idea of building a $173 million DePaul basketball arena that would double as an “event center” for McCormick Place, thanks to design changes triggered by a court fight over adjacent land.

Instead of waiting for a judge to resolve the dispute, Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to get the project rolling by relocating a 1,200-room hotel originally planned for the disputed land at 22nd and Michigan to a site across the street from the stadium to be built on a parcel bounded by Cermak, Prairie, 21st and Indiana.

Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) said the revised project was well-received at a community meeting this week, even though concerns remain about parking, traffic and security.

“It brings the vitality of the [larger] hotel closer to the neighborhood with the addition of new restaurants and retail. That’s what the community wants to see,” Dowell said Thursday.

“The other hotel [plan] was not connected to the neighborhood. This is pulling the hotel closer to the entertainment center and the South Loop, which brings retail to the pedestrian level.”

Tina Feldstein, president of the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance, said shifting the headquarters hotel to the block east of the arena makes “a lot more sense” because it “salvages” Prairie Avenue and creates a “walkable destination, instead of it being partially blocked off for trucks loading” for the arena.

“It gives the development a much better chance of creating a destination. You don’t want another Rosement where they come to the event center and leave. The only way you address that issue is by creating a destination,” she said.

Still, Feldstein said “major concerns” remain about traffic and parking that will likely require making some streets one-way while putting cul-de-sacs on others.

“The issue is vehicular traffic. How and where are all of these cars going to go? How are they going to bring in and out so many people in such a small footprint? That’s not solved yet,” she said.

Deputy Mayor Steve Koch and Planning and Development Commissioner Andy Mooney said the land dispute gave City Hall an opportunity to rearrange the pieces of the puzzle in a way more appealing to area residents.

“The arena site now has more space. We wanted to figure out how to save the landmark American Book Bindery building, but needed a way to fit it in. This allows that to happen. It will become part of the new hotel,” Koch said.

“This works out to have much better integration with the neighborhood in terms of retail shops, restaurants and bars in a way that will create street life.”

Mooney added, “It takes what otherwise would be an empty block and turns it into a very productive use. It allows us to use Prairie Avenue in a way that’s enhancing to the neighborhood.”

The changes driven by the land dispute are not confined to the layout.

Emanuel’s original plan called for $70 million in stadium construction costs to come from the McPier bond fund backed by local hotel taxes and $33 million in land costs to be paid for by the surrounding tax-increment-financing (TIF) district. Another $21.5 milion in TIF funds would have been used to buy the land now tied up in court.

The new plan calls for the city to devote all $55 million of its TIF money to purchase land for the headquarters hotel and absorb a chunk of development costs.

That would force McPier to spend $33 million to acquire land for the arena and still develop the headquarters hotel.

Koch said the 500-room boutique hotel will be built “in partnership with a developer” once the city gains control over the land.

“We are not adding any taxpayers dollars whatsoever to this project that weren’t already planned to be in it,” he said.

Mooney pointed to a “market study” that shows a need for 3,000 hotel rooms near McCormick Place.

“The boutique hotel would bring us up to that level. We fully believe and are confident there will be developer interest and the market will be very strong,” he said.

Email: fspielman@suntimes.com

Twitter:@fspielman



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