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DePaul offered free rent to play basketball games at United Center, source says

Updated: December 21, 2012 6:16AM

SPRINGFIELD — United Center’s owners are trying to entice DePaul University to play basketball at the West Side sports arena and not build elsewhere in exchange for 10 years of free rent and a boatload of other perks, a source familiar with the offer told the Chicago Sun-Times Monday.

But DePaul tamped down the free-rent possibility Monday as it continues to weigh its options, including the possibly playing Blue Demons basketball in a new arena that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has talked about building near McCormick Place.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported Friday that the deal being offered to DePaul by Chicago White Sox and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz — an investor in Sun-Times’ parent, Wrapports, LLC — was “very lucrative.” But details of it only began trickling out on Monday.

The details of the plan, which were first reported by Crain’s Chicago Business, revolve around giving the largest Catholic university in the country free rent to play at the United Center for the next decade, a source familiar with the plan told the Sun-Times.

But DePaul spokeswoman Cindy Lawson said she was unaware of any offer to the university that would free it from having to pay rent to use the United Center.

“I saw Father Dennis Holtschneider, the president of DePaul, and I said to him today, ‘What can you tell me? ‘Have we really been offered a proposal for free rent?’” she said. “And his comment was wouldn’t that be nice, to get a free-rent proposal?

“I didn’t take … him as sidestepping the issue but making clear that free rent hasn’t been part of any proposal,” she continued.

Beyond that possibility of a rent-free period, the United Center has offered to let the team put a Blue Demons logo atop the Bulls logo at center court and on both ends of the court, hang its championship banners from the arena’s ceiling, permit DePaul to use the Chicago Bulls locker room during its 16 home games and open a Blue Demons store and restaurant at the arena, the source said.

The other elements of the United Center offer include having the Bulls sell DePaul tickets and granting Blue Demons patrons the ability to buy tickets for United Center concerts and other events earlier than the general public.

Howard Pizer, the Bulls’ executive vice president who told the Sun-Times last week about the United Center’s overture toward DePaul, didn’t respond to a message seeking comment Monday about the free-rent report.

“It’s a very, very solid economic offer. Very lucrative for DePaul to play at the United Center,” Pizer said Friday.

Emanuel is determined to bring the Blue Demons basketball program back to Chicago when the school’s lease at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont expires.

He has talked about building a new home for DePaul near McCormick Place to serve as a catalyst for development of restaurants, clubs and other nightlife the convention center now lacks.

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