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DePaul's strategic planning draft leaves development questions

By Paige Wagenknecht
On April 2, 2012

Vision2012 kicked off the DePaul sprawl with new facilities including an art museum, a new academic facility and a half-built Theatre School facility, which accounted for solid chunk of the plan.

However, it appears the Vision2012 building projects will spill over into the new Strategic Planning 2018 plan, based on the latest draft emailed to the university community, March 21. The Board of Trustees will vote on the draft in May, and if accepted will determine DePaul's plan for the next six years.

"They will tear down McGaw soon and start building the Music School after the Theatre School is complete," said Student Government Association (SGA) President Anthony Alfano.

During the December Faculty Council meeting, one executive vice-president cautioned against ambitious building projects issued in Strategic Planning 2018 because several big facility ideas from Vision2012 will not be completed until 2016.

The new draft stated commitments to complete the Lincoln Park campus fine arts quarter, including finishing the Theatre School and Music School, and selectively expand the Loop campus. The plan also calls for increased sustainability by reducing the university's carbon footprint through a "practical and appropriate framework."

But, the one bullet point that received the most attention was a reference to the possibility of a return for the men's basketball team to Chicago: "Seek opportunities to bring men's basketball back into the city."

While many took this statement as an affirmation the team will return to Chicago to play home games on or near campus, it is only a commitment by the Board of Trustees to discuss the possibilities of the team returning to Chicago and not a guarantee the team actually will, according to Alfano.

"[The plan's] wording is about a conversation-not a commitment to build," Alfano said. "We don't want this to be a side conversation anymore. It is a hard conversation to have and one that needs to happen."

"The plan is saying that this is a conversation we want to have," he said.

The athletic department released this statement about the possibility of an arena and the department's relationship with the basketball team's current venue, the Allstate Arena:

"Students, faculty, staff, alumni and fans of DePaul men's basketball have often expressed the desire for the team to play home games closer to the Lincoln Park campus. A proposal to explore opportunities that address this desire is among many ideas on a wide range of issues that are part of the current draft of the university's next long-range strategic plan. The University has a great relationship with Allstate Arena, where the men's program has played the last 32 seasons and we most recently hosted the women's NCAA 1st and 2nd rounds this season."

However, even if the future conversation did result in bringing the men's basketball team back to the city, there are several aspects that go into building a new arena if the Board opts against another rental like the Allstate Arena.

For example, Big East arena requirements, cost, space, zoning rules, and politics, to name a few, are some of the hurdles DePaul would have to get passed to build an arena.

Although there aren't any Big East requirements with regards to size and cost, the university would need to raise a large amount of money for a facility to compete with top Big East arenas. During an interview last spring, DePaul Athletic Director Jean Lenti-Ponsetto estimated a new, full-size arena would cost around $200 to $250 million. Executive Vice President Bob Kozoman confirmed the numbers last spring.

"To build a stadium that size is in the $90 to $100 million range," he said. "Parking could easily be another $50 million on top of that. And then to acquire a site with eight plus acres would probably be in the $30-$50 million range."

The Verizon Center where Georgetown University's team play cost $260 million dollars and has a capacity of 20,173. On a smaller scale, the University of Cincinnati's Fifth Third Arena holds 13,176 and cost $32 million.

During the "Many Dreams, One Mission" capital campaign for DePaul is supposed to raise $250 million by 2014 it allotted $100 million to new scholarships, $10.5 million for endowed scholarships, $1.3 million for sports facilities (Cacciatore Stadium, outdoor track and the golf practice and training facility) and $3.5 million for athletic support programs.

According to the website, these funds would be used to "increase student financial assistance, invest in areas of academic excellence university-wide, help recruit and retain top faculty and develop programs and campus facilities that serve and improve communities and strengthen DePaul's Vincentian Catholic values."

"I think the real time to evaluate how viable an option it is to look at a facility, partner with somebody, own a facility or continue the tenant relationship at All-State is when the campus campaign is over," Ponsetto said last spring. "Once all the new academic buildings and scholarship funds are raised, I think that would be the time."

Another big question with building an arena is where we would put it? Space is a huge issue. Despite, there being no Big East requirements for number of seats in a playing facility, which translates to little space restrictions for DePaul, but that being said, being landlocked restricts DePaul enough.

One option in Lincoln Park is the Finkl Steel Mill, which will relocate after 110 years of sitting on Cortland Avenue just west of Clybourn Avenue. In order for Finkl to be a viable option, the space would need to be rezoned from its industrial classification.

"Finkl Steel Mill would be a challenge because the city and neighborhoods seem committed to keeping manufacture use in the manufacturing corridor." Said DePaul Executive Vice President of University Officers Bob Kozoman. "It may be amenable to a stadium but it wouldn't be a done deal."

Neighborhood groups would also be a concern.

When the Finkl Steel Mill came up in aldermanic debates, 43rd ward Alderman Michele Smith said, "I think we should maintain that planned manufacturing system that's been there for a long time against development which will cause rampant traffic issues," said Smith. "We really don't know what is going to become of that site. It's really early in the process."

If approved by the trustees a new vision will be adopted for 2018 in May.

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