On-campus arena faces uphill battle
Location, cost the biggest obstacles for any potential new basketball facility
Published: Monday, May 16, 2011
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
DePaul University's history is rich with imagery; St. Vincent DePaul, the St. Vincent DePaul church in Lincoln Park, alums such as former Mayor Richard M. Daley and Ray Meyer and the ubiquitous Blue Demon mascot, Dibs. Arguably, there is a key scene missing from the picturesque college: A full-size on-campus basketball arena.
Many students, faculty and athletes would likely support an on-campus arena, but it isn't as easy as picking a plot of land and building. DePaul funds are tied up in other competitive educational expenses, the area around campus is constantly being developed and there is a lack of political support for such a project.
A university known for its men's basketball program, DePaul has sufficed with pared down, 5,000-seat arenas for basketball games in Lincoln Park since the 1950s. Alumni Hall opened in 1956 and held 5,308 people; it was even the site of a 1960 NCAA Midwest Regional game to determine the national champion of men's Division I college basketball. The arena closed in 2000 and was rebuilt in 2001 as DePaul's new student center. The Blue Demons made their move to the Sullivan Athletic Center, current home to the women's basketball program and men's basketball games during the preseason.
Despite the impressive women's basketball 2010-2011 season and Head Coach Oliver Purnell's first year adapting to men's Blue Demon basketball, the program still requires the men's team to play at Rosemont's Allstate Arena for larger games, due to both space issues and contractual agreements. But even if that were not the case, would an on-campus basketball arena be a real possibility for DePaul athletics?
Several aspects go into building decisions: Big East arena requirements, cost and space, zoning rules, and politics, to name a few. Primarily, teams competing in the Big East must abide by certain rules in terms of their arena such as logos on the floor, length of the scorer's table, and so on. John Paquette, associate commissioner of the Big East Conference, said, "Although all arenas that host conference games have to be approved by the conference office, there is no minimum seat number." However, if a school plays its games in two venues as DePaul does, "the commissioner does have the ability to decide where a particular conference game is played, if that is necessary." The lack of a minimum occupant number benefits DePaul's chances of creating an on-campus arena since it could be any size the school sees fit.
Clearly, the Big East has some impressive team arenas. Big East contenders with similar contracts (professional arena partnerships) as DePaul are Villanova and St. John's. Villanova plays at The Pavilion Arena (6,500) and the Wells Fargo Center (20,000) in Philadelphia for larger crowds. For men's basketball non-conference home games, St. John's plays at the Carnesecca Arena, which houses 6,008. Bigger games are played at Madison Square Garden (just shy of 20,000).
In comparison, out of the 17 games played at home (including two games at McGrath arena), DePaul's average home game attendance for men's basketball was 7,676 and 130,486 for total attendance.
Smaller scale on-campus arenas such as University of Cincinnati's Fifth Third Arena holds 13,176 at a cool $32 million while Georgetown's 20,173-capacity Verizon Center was $260 million.
Larger arena sites holding a 20,000-plus capacity require an equally huge piece of land. Syracuse's Carrier Dome holds 33,000 and costs the school $28 million. It is the largest domed stadium of any college campus and the largest domed stadium in the northeastern United States. Even if they wanted to, DePaul likely would not be able to build such a large facility since the school's location makes the prospect of an on-campus arena difficult.
The campus and surrounding area is completely land-locked and resides within residential and retail areas. Neighborhood discussions on the A. Finkl & Sons Co. steel site (2011 N. Southport Ave.) and the Lincoln Park Hospital (550 W. Webster Ave.) have arisen as possible arena locations.
With newly elected 43rd Ward Alderman Michele Smith's plans to renew Lincoln Park Hospital, the Finkl site is the more promising of the two, although the idea is met with great opposition.
"Finkl Steel Mill would be a challenge because the city and neighborhoods seem committed to keeping manufacturing 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."
Kozoman also cited neighborhood group opinions and political power as obstacles to getting the Finkl site. During the final 43rd Ward alderman runoff debate on March 31, candidates were asked about the Finkl site and possible DePaul purchase.
"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."
While the location of a possible DePaul arena is up in the air, one aspect is certain: the cost for a new basketball arena is no small sum. University of Louisville's powerhouse Cardinals pack 20,000 guests into the KFC Yum! Arena, which cost the school $238 million. It is the fifth largest college basketball arena in the nation.
In order for DePaul to compete with top Big East arenas on its own campus, the school would need to raise a staggering amount of money for a facility and its required components. DePaul Athletic Director Jean Lenti-Ponsetto estimated a new, full-size arena would cost around $200-$250 million. Kozoman agreed on the numbers.
"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."