With Rahm’s DePaul plan, we’ve entered a new arena of stupidity
BY RICK TELANDER email@example.com May 14, 2013 10:46PM
DePaul's Cleveland Melvin (12) competes for the ball against Chicago State's Clarke Rosenberg in the first half Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011, at Allstate Arena in Rosemont. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times
Updated: June 16, 2013 6:43AM
There are head-scratchers, and then there are ones that burrow right through your cranium.
We got the latter here, folks.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is set to announce plans to build a $300 million, 12,000-seat arena for DePaul University . . . dum-dum- dum (suspense) . . . at McCormick Place.
Not on DePaul’s campus. Not anywhere on the Near or Far North Side or anywhere close to Lincoln Park. The gym will be next to gargantuan convention center McCormick Place, located at 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive, a meandering 50 blocks or more from DePaul. Kind of like a school bookstore, huh?
It’s a dumb idea on the face of it. DePaul’s men’s basketball team has been on a slow trip to nowhere. In the last five years, the Blue Demons have gone 47-111.
But forget that. Guess who will have to cough up about $100 million to build the thing for the private Catholic university of 25,000, through bonds and the usual sneak attacks of wallet-siphonage — Yes! Taxpayers! Ta-dah!
Not only is this wrong and unfair, it is nigh onto insane. Say DePaul plays 18 men’s games in the new arena. That only leaves 357 days of emptiness. Sure, there would be some other games held there — I don’t know, maybe dodgeball and mud wrestling — but this is such a guaranteed money-loser that it boggles this little scribe’s rapidly balding head. Maintenance alone would bankrupt a small town.
Plus, Chicago already has the United Center, which seats almost 22,000. It’s a much better facility than DePaul’s current Allstate Arena home court, which is 15 miles away in Rosemont. The United Center is much closer to DePaul than McCormick Place is. It does about 200 events a year, has a nice hockey rink and wooden hoops floor, clean washrooms, and it already offered itself to DePaul for 10 years, rent-free.
No deal. DePaul likes this Emanuel idea more. And why shouldn’t it? If you’re at the trough, you’re going to waddle over to the feeding spot with the most slop rolling down the flume. In Chicago, this is known as business as usual.
Of course, everything’s a game in Chicago, run by people who have power, people we don’t interact with doing things — like giving away parking meters and a billion dollars — that we only become aware of when we catch up to the rusty can that has been kicked down the road and find out we’ve cut our feet badly and we’re bleeding away. Or our taxes abruptly resemble shakedowns.
DePaul is entering a new conference that once was dubbed the ‘‘Catholic Seven,’’ with other basketball schools that do not have football teams, but so what? Twelve-thousand people 18 times a year equals about nothing. And DePaul right now averages about 10,000 people per game.
Longtime Chicago-based stadium expert Marc Ganis — a man who works on arena development around the world, which has included China’s historic Olympic ‘‘Birds Nest’’ stadium — was kind enough to answer a few questions of mine regarding this nutso proposal.
‘‘It’s lunacy,’’ he said straight off. ‘‘Sheer folly. It makes no economic sense whatsoever.’’
We won’t even talk about how the citizens get hosed here. What about Emanuel’s notion of a basketball stadium hooked to a convention center, a building that will leak money like a rubber raft in a fork factory?
‘‘Emanuel’s an incredibly sharp operator,’’ Ganis says. ‘‘So I wonder what’s up. As someone who has worked on projects like these for decades, I can tell you there is absolutely no way for this to make any sense in any way. It is not in the realm of possibility.’’
Another element of dumbness is that a domed football stadium might make sense next to McCormick Place, but that would cost a ton.
‘‘Some years ago, they were talking about $300 million for a domed arena at almost the same place!’’ Ganis says.
But now this. And as Ganis notes, if Illinois power dealers John Cullerton, the Senate president, and Mike Madigan, the House speaker, are ‘‘already on board, then it’s a done deal.’’
Remember when the Ricketts family wanted a bond deal to help the Cubs two years ago? Emanuel clubbed them, rightly, back into reality with a resounding Forget it!
Now this? A publicly owned place competing with private facilities like the United Center and Wrigley Field?
Something smells. Something’s afoot, something we peons know nothing about. Maybe it’s gambling, owned by the city, a casino right at McCormick Place. In Las Vegas, the big casinos make serious money off arenas for boxing, mixed martial arts, contests people can bet on.
Is that where this is headed? Or does Emanuel owe something to the Vincentian priests? Are the Cubs going to move into the arena, too, and play before a swank, heavily reduced, thousand-dollar-a-seat crowd?
‘‘I’m grasping at straws to think what could be the reason [for the plan],’’ Ganis says.
His best guess?
‘‘This is Chicago.’’