DePaul Has Great Opportunity with New Arena at McCormick Place

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DePaul Has Great Opportunity with New Arena at McCormick Place
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

For months, make that years, DePaul University has been looking at ways to ditch the suburbs of Rosemont and finally make Chicago their home again for basketball games.

What has been rumored for months may come to fruition this week as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is expected to announce a $300 million stadium at McCormick Place for the DePaul Blue Demons to play their home games (via Chicago Sun-Times). While $300 million could be a reach of a total (and could include the cost of hotels), DePaul is expected to pitch in a lot of money with the exposition authority (aka McPier), perhaps spending more than $100 million in untapped bonding authority.

E. Cermak Road is possible site for new DePaul arena. Photo credit: Nuccio DiNuzzo, Chicago Tribune

The plans call for a 10-12,000 seat stadium for DePaul basketball—with adjoining hotels adjacent to the arena—in the hopes that the south side of Chicago can revitalize its businesses. There is even talk of casinos possibly being built in the area.

DePaul currently plays its home games at the outdated Allstate Arena (formerly Rosemont Horizon), which is roughly 15 miles away from its main campus in Lincoln Park. With the team underperforming (six straight losing seasons) in recent years, there hasn’t been many legitimate reasons why the casual fan should feel compelled to make the trip.

But, if you have an arena in the city (even if not on campus), that changes the equation. DePaul has already rejected a deal to play its home games at the United Center for 10 years rent free. The feeling is DePaul did not want to play second fiddle to the Bulls and the Blackhawks. They wanted a place they can truly call their own. Plus, the United Center is too big of a setting for the university.

DePaul has to capitalize on this new opportunity in front of them. With a brand-new spanking stadium, they could reinvigorate its moribund program and get back to the levels it enjoyed in the late 70’s/early 80’s, which culminated in its appearance in the 1979 Final Four. In fact, it was their success in late 70’s that warranted their move from their tiny on-campus gym at Alumni Hall (seating capacity 5,308) to the spacious and more modernly appealing (at the time) Rosemont Horizon (capacity 18,500) in 1980.

DePaul great Mark Aguirre discusses state of program.

DePaul did enjoy quite a run in the early 80’s at Rosemont Horizon, routinely selling out the arena while being an annual participant in the NCAA Tournament. However, that atmosphere has all but vanished at the unaesthetically pleasing Allstate Arena.

DePaul, who are about to enter the remodeled and basketball-centric version of the Big East (with the additions of Xavier, Butler and Creighton), is at a crossroads and it's time for them to remodel their brand while also reinventing themselves. A new home court in their own city can help immensely in that process. It would give the program a much-needed facelift.

For years, DePaul and its multitude of coaches (currently led by Oliver Purnell) have tried to lure top-flight recruits, but between all the losing combined with the outdated facilities, they have continued to struggle.

Students simply don’t want to travel that far to support a mediocre product. But you put a campus in the city, and suddenly going to a game is much more feasible and trendy. And for the casual fan, they can enjoy the game while also immersing themselves in the bar/restaurant scene around the area prior to and after the games. That’s something that’s not plausible at DePaul’s current home at Allstate Arena, which is basically landlocked.

Things could be on the upswing at DePaul. This year they signed an ESPN top-100 recruit in Billy Garrett Jr. (his father Billy Sr. is a member of the coaching staff) while also reeling in a potential steal in Tommy Hamilton, a once-promising former top-50 recruit from Chicago (via depaul.scout.com). Both players, who call Chicago home, can possibly spark a renaissance in the city.

DePaul has long been canonized for romanticizing about the past. It’s time for them to start thinking ahead, and the building of an arena in the city that you can call your own is a step in the right direction.

While DePaul may continue to struggle in the near future (the team is still coming off a disappointing 11-21 season), there finally could be a light at the end of the tunnel.

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