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Finding partner key to DePaul’s plans

DePaul students administrators listen as DePaul athletics director Jean Lenti PonsetDePaul SGA president Caroline Winsett womenÕs basketball coach Doug Bruno

DePaul students and administrators listen as DePaul athletics director Jean Lenti Ponsetto, DePaul SGA president Caroline Winsett, womenÕs basketball coach Doug Bruno and menÕs basketball coach Oliver Purnell take part in a news conference regarding the announcement of a new events center located at McCormick Place. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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DePaul’s financial commitment to the new multipurpose arena at McCormick Place will be half the cost of construction, or an estimated $70 million. That cost will rise if construction costs escalate.

But the university believes the deal is the most viable for its goal of finding a home for its men’s and women’s basketball teams in the city.

‘‘We couldn’t have done this without a partner,’’ university president the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider said Thursday. ‘‘We had offers of many locations around the city, and a couple of them would have been wonderful.

‘‘But the problem was more than location. We needed a partner. Otherwise, we would have had to pay for the whole thing, for a building we didn’t need the whole time. I would have had to saddle students with tuition [increases] for a lot of years.’’

DePaul will pay for the cost through ticket sales, private donations — several major donors already have made commitments and will be announced soon — revenue from the new Big East’s television deal and naming rights.

Naming rights will include the facility itself, as well as internal naming options for suites, certain seats and locker rooms.

The project, announced Thursday by the city, DePaul and the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, had its seeds almost two years ago in a chance conversation between Holtschneider and Mayor Rahm Emanual.

‘‘When the mayor first assumed office, I had been with him one day and I simply said, ‘I’m always out there looking for a partner who would want to do this kind of project, and I may never be in the room when you hear of someone who wants to do this,’ ’’ Holtschneider said. ‘‘I was thinking it would be some other team or athletic organization.’’

That led MPEA officials to contact the school.

Authority directors Jack Greenberg and Frank M. Clark Jr., who also are on DePaul’s board of trustees, recused themselves from any discussions, Holtschneider said.

Under the deal, DePaul will receive 30-year tenancy with some 30 dates for its men’s and women’s basketball teams, practice time and school graduations.

Holtschneider said the school considered the offer from United Center owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Rocky Wirtz, though it was not ‘‘free’’ and ultimately unworkable because of the lack of dates for games, practices and graduations.

‘‘Part of having a home court is being able to practice on it,’’ he said. ‘‘This changes the game for recruiting, and we think it helps us coach the teams to a higher level.

‘‘If your goal is to create a first-rate collegiate program, we feel we have a better shot for it in this space.’’

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