Emanuel on DePaul arena: Hire architect first, ask questions later

How badly does Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel want to get his $300 million DePaul University basketball arena (which would use $125 million in public funds) built in a hurry? He’s only giving design firms a few weeks to submit proposals for the project, and isn’t letting them talk to community residents until after he’s picked a winner:

Community leaders want to know how the arena, also planned as a venue for concerts and convention meetings, would work, not just how it would look. Would it be a blank-walled urban fortress (think the United Center) on days when no events are scheduled? How will cars be routed through the historic district’s narrow streets? Where will loading docks go? Will there be enough transit to handle the crowds for concerts and DePaul men’s and women’s basketball games?

“We’ve been purposely kept out,” Tina Feldstein, president of the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance, said Wednesday. Ideally, added the group’s co-vice president, Jeff Ayersman, the six architectural firms working on the arena should be “listening to the community.”

The project has already gotten state approval, and we’ve seen how Emanuel gets his way with the city council, so it looks pretty likely to go forward. Which, if nothing else, will give the rest of the world a good test case of whether building a 12,000-seat college basketball arena attached to a convention center is crazy stupid or a great idea waiting to happen. I know where I’d put my money, but thanks as always, Chicago, for being the nation’s wacky urban redevelopment guinea pig!

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