CHICAGO -- After more than three decades spent playing in the suburbs, DePaul basketball is finally getting its own place in the city.
On Thursday, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel announced plans for a new 10,000-seat arena that will serve as the home floor for DePaul men's and women's basketball. Construction on the facility is scheduled to begin in 2014, and the school is hoping to open in time for the 2016-17 season.
The $173 million arena will be built across the street from McCormick Place -- the largest convention center in North America -- in the city's Near South Side neighborhood. The school will pay rent at the building but will retain naming rights and permanent internal and external signage space.
Athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto said at a news conference on Thursday the new arena, accessible via the city's scenic Lake Shore Drive and connected with DePaul's campuses via the Red Line "El" train, would allow to DePaul to impress recruits, promote student attendance and engage with its home city in ways not possible at the aging, suburban Allstate Arena.
"One of the many issues that we've dealt with over the years ... is building affinity and school pride," Ponsetto said. "It was becoming more and more difficult for our students to make their way to the Allstate Arena, and that was continuously a point of concern for us. Our future season-ticket holders are students that are currently enrolled."
Ponsetto also said he thinks a new arena could help the program improve the school's product on the court.
"It's a really important opportunity for us to elevate the program and enhance our recruiting," Ponsetto said. "Most of us would think the byproduct of that would be that we would win."
The new arena is just one part of Emanuel's $1.1 billion "Enhance Chicago" tourism and trade show infrastructure revitalization effort, a wave of planned redevelopment that will include nearby hotels, bars, restaurants and other entertainment. Those plans also include a $278 million update to the city's iconic Navy Pier tourist attraction, among other lakefront changes.
Funding for the arena will comprise $70 million from DePaul, $70 million from the McPier bond fund and $33 million from public taxes, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Thursday.
The proposals will have to survive revenue-strapped state and local political climates, and the arena already might be the most controversial portion of the plan. Neighborhood residents have raised concerns about the use of public funds for the benefit of a private institution, as well as the potential impact on the local neighborhood. Alderman Robert Fioretti, whose 2nd Ward encompasses McCormick Place, told the Chicago Tribune on Thursday the "public is not going to go for using public money unless it is strictly justified."
DePaul, which has been playing its home games at Allstate Arena since 1980, has been openly searching for a new home for its basketball team in recent years. One early proposal hoped for the construction of an own single-use basketball arena near the school's main Lincoln Park campus. In November 2012, DePaul received a 10-year, rent-free offer from the United Center. It rejected that offer in March, opting to pursue the McCormick Place plan instead.
Ponsetto said the school would reserve 17 winter dates for men's home games and as many as 10 for the women's team, in addition to convocation and graduation ceremonies.
Meanwhile, DePaul will play the 2013-14 season -- its first in the new offshoot Big East, which signed a 12-year multiplatform media rights agreement with Fox Sports this spring -- on a renewable one-year contract with Allstate Arena.
Purnell said even talk of the new arena, and the athletic support facilities that will accompany it, have helped the rebuilding men's program's lackluster local perception.
"Facilities are huge in terms of a priority buying motive for a prospect and his family and influencers," Purnell said. "Already talking about the possibility of building a place and the real possibility and likelihood of it happening has already helped us in recruiting Chicago-area players."