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DePaul President: Partnership with City key to arena deal

DePaul’s financial commitment to the new multi-purpose 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 deal is one the university saw as the most viable for its goal of finding a home for its men’s and women’s basketball teams in the city and closer to its Lincoln Park and downtown campuses.

``We couldn’t have done this without a partner,’’ DePaul 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 plans to raise its share of funding through ticket sales, private donations—with several major donors already committed and to be announced soon, through increased revenues that will come from the new television rights deal for the new Big East and Fox television, and through naming rights.

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

The project announced Thursday between 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 Emanuel.

``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. ``They said `we hear you’re looking for a partner,’ ‘’ he said.

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

Under the deal, DePaul will get longterm tenancy in the arena with 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 ultimately unworkable because of the lack of playing dates and practice times and for graduations.

``Jerry and Rocky were incredibly gracious,’’ he said. ``It was not free because there would not be rental but there would be operating costs [to be paid by DePaul], and they would have received income from the parking and all the concessions and all premium seats. We would have received income from the remaining seats.

``All in all, it was on par with similar arrangements in the country. It was entirely fair. The problem is there are several other tenants—the Bulls, the Blackhawks, the circus, the ice show. They could not figure a way to work with us as far as practice time for the team, and they couldn’t handle any appearances for our women, and they certainly couldn’t handle graduations because of the postseason.’’

But Holtschneider said the goal of upgrading the program also was a factor.

``Part of having a home court is being able to practice on it,’’ he said. ``Given the opportunty to recruit to an arena we have practice time in and can have our women play in and have our own dedicated locker rooms and coaching staffs there, it 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.’’

``I’m thrilled we’ve come to this day,’’ he said. ``This is something DePaul and its fans and alumni and students have been crying for for years, and to finally find a partner who needed a facility as much as we did, that was the moment we ran to it.’’

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