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Taking the Long Way 'Home'

By Julian Zeng and Cheryl Waity
On April 2, 2012

Taking the Long Way 'Home'

The year 2018 is very far away. Even if he wins re-election this year, Barack Obama won't be president. Almost no one currently attending DePaul University will be still attending if you are on a traditional college trajectory. And DePaul will probably not have an on-campus arena and there is still only a slim chance men's basketball will play in the city.

This week has been all about a strategic plan draft released by the university that included a vague line in the section regarding property growth, infrastructure, facilities and development. One of the objectives listed was: "Seek opportunities to bring men's basketball back into the city."

Everyone has pretty much grabbed hold of this and run with it. The ideas are flying. "Are we going to build a new arena? Are we going to rent space from an arena closer to the city? Where would this space be? Men's basketball is coming home! Yay! Yay! Yay!"

Hold on.

The DePaul sprawl has already started for those who didn't notice all the construction around Lincoln Park. Construction of the new Theatre School is well underway. Arts & Letters Hall is a beautiful building right in the middle of campus. If we follow the list of construction projects from VisionTwenty12 , the old strategic plan the university is still working on, there are still many goals out there that must be accomplished.

According to the Vision Twenty12 subsection on DePaul's website, a "modest hotel complex, residences (both academic and non-academic affiliated), DePaul facility space," as well as retail and parking space are planned for 1040 W. Fullerton Avenue. Music School renovations are on the agenda, but substantial changes have yet to come about.

However far away the completion of these buildings may be, there is sufficient evidence to suggest DePaul is devoted to enhancing facilities to increase university value and image, but constructing a brand-new athletic arena, one in line with today's standards, would be an ambitious undertaking, to say the least.

DePaul University can best be described as landlocked in a compact residential area. And high land and developments costs only complicate the situation.

When asked last spring about the likelihood of an arena being built on campus, athletic director Jean Lenti-Ponsetto estimated the potential cost of building a full-size arena would fall in the $200-250 million range. Bob Kozoman, DePaul's Executive Vice President of University Officers, agreed with the estimate.

"To build a stadium that size is in the $90-$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."

Considering the often arduous processes of obtaining zoning regulations, city approval and support from nearby residents, it is unlikely plans for an on-campus arena will come into fruition without significant backlash.

In the rumor maelstrom that has spiraled up in light of the university's announcement expressing desire to build an arena closer to the Lincoln Park campus, a number of potential locations are on the radar.

One unviable prospective site is the United Center. Home of the Bulls and Blackhawks and owned by Rocky Wirtz and Jerry Reinsdorf, the United Center would certainly be an upgrade over Allstate Arena in terms of size and scope. Yet to house the home games of a men's basketball team that just scraped up an average attendance of between eight and nine thousand fans per game this season, the added contract cost with the city's best arena would be offset by the expected inability to fill all 20,917 seats on a game-by-game basis. Students who gripe about the long bus rides to Rosemont now also wouldn't be appeased by the treks to the UC on the west side of Chicago.

In a Fox News Chicago exclusive, the corner of Fullerton and Sheffield was reported as the next site for a basketball arena. You don't have to look closely, though, to see that this is already the site for DePaul's new welcome center, which was completed last year. Replacing a brand-new, multi-million dollar structure so soon after it was built logistically makes little sense, especially for residents in the immediate vicinity of the site. Hundreds of cars backing up the already busy streets of Fullerton and Sheffield on game nights will surely wear out their welcome in a hurry, causing undue stress and frustration to locals used to not having traffic magnets like sports arenas next door. This rumor can essentially be squashed.

The Finkl Steel plant on Cortland and the Morton Salt Company on Elston have also been rumored to be potential locations, but as DePaul has yet to release a comment about specific sites, there can really only be speculation at this point in time.

If DePaul is in fact serious about their plans to bring a new arena close to the Lincoln Park campus, the chances of it being completed by 2018 are dubious. With the men's basketball's contract ending in 2015, though, a decision should be made soon to avoid the team becoming homeless.

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