Chicago’s $250 million arena for DePaul universally decried as dumb idea, getting built anyway

Meant to report on this yesterday: On Friday, the Chicago Tribune ran a long article on the state-run Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority — aka McPier — and its $450 million convention center hotel and $250 million DePaul University arena projects, and determined that, well:

The Tribune found that McPier’s formula for success is based on a series of optimistic and risky predictions.

The $250 million figure [for annual economic impact] comes from a McPier-funded study that assumes DePaul fans will fill almost all of the arena’s 10,000 seats for games — nearly tripling the team’s recent average attendance. The Blue Demons, who now play in suburban Rosemont, haven’t had a winning record since 2007.

McPier officials also are hoping that, between basketball games, the arena will host convention meetings, concerts and other events, bringing new guests to the planned hotel, a 1,200-room, $450 million Marriott Marquis. But a recent study commissioned in New York found that sports facilities are unattractive to conventions because of their fixed seating, a sentiment some convention officials also expressed to the Tribune.

The arena is mostly being paid for out of McPier’s budget, which is already stretched to the breaking point and heavily subsidized by state taxes; the city of Chicago is kicking in $55 million in tax-increment financing money, while DePaul is putting in $82 million, almost half of which it will get back from naming rights and sponsorship deals. (The arena’s price tag, you may recall, was originally $140 million, but ballooned to $250 million when it was determined that it was being built in dirt that was too soft.)

There’s much more to the Tribune story, including a note that more than half of the projected economic benefits would be from money that’s already being spent in Chicago by local residents — though given that it’s already been reported that DePaul’s economic study included counting tickets that the university buys from itself and never uses, really all of its numbers should be treated as apocryphal. Perhaps best of all is the quote that the Trib managed to get from Chicago sports consultant Marc Ganis, who almost never sees a stadium deal he doesn’t like, but who said of the DePaul arena, “It was a dumb idea when it was proposed, it was a dumb idea when they approved it and it will be a dumb idea in the future.” Convention authorities really will throw money at just about anything regardless of past results, won’t they?

13 comments on “Chicago’s $250 million arena for DePaul universally decried as dumb idea, getting built anyway

  1. Chicago also already has about 4000 concert venues of every conceivable size. On top of that the city hosts Lollapalooza, Riot Fest and Pitchfork; all of which have restrictions. So bands playing those festivals can’t play within a certain mile radius of the city for a period of time before or after the fest, meaning many of the bigger bands won’t even be available for the venue for a decent chunk of the year.

    It’s dumb anyway, but my guess is the marginal contribution of concerts is way lower than even their conservative projections (if they made any that are conservative).

  2. For a college team that sells 1500 tickets. Don’t believe their attendance numbers. The mayor is Depaul fan. The city is broke and highest per capita property taxes in country.

  3. It should also be noted this would bring into question the future of the Allstate Arena, which to this day hosts many events (hell, it hosted a WWE event to a sold out crowd last night); would it be torn down due to losing its main consistent tennant and getting more competition for live events, or no because its bigger + cheaper for events than the new arena, not to mention Depauls weak ticket sales isnt much to lose?

  4. It should also be noted that DePaul students and many professors have protested AGAINST the stadium, noting that it is a complete waste of money that could be better spent. But Rahm fell in love with the idea, and like Daley before, they never saw a use for TIF funding they didn’t love. Oh, and for those outside the Chicago area, DePaul’s campus is in Lincoln Park neighborhood, a trendy but very congested area that is NOT a close trip to where they are building the new stadium on the lakefront.

  5. Rahm’s actions as mayor really cast a lot of doubt on Obama’s personnel evaluation skills in my mind. He has been very uninspiring and used to be White House Chief of Staff!

  6. No Allstate arena won’t be torn down.The Chicago Wolves of the AHL play there as well as concerts being there.DePaul should of went to UIC pavilion on the west side about an mile SE of the United Center. Seating is about ,9,000.When DePaul moved in 1980 they were a top team and sold out consistently. They were the only winning team in town.Times change.

  7. @Ben.The Wolves will stay as long as they are a hockey club.The owners love the arena.As for the Sky don’t know.They were at UIC a few years back.It would make sense for them to be in a smaller venue.Unless they pay very low rent in Rosemont.

  8. Isn’t McPier funded in large part from the State of Illinois budget, which doesn’t exist and hasn’t for a year or more? Or alternatively isn’t McPier getting authorized to spend money (including its own debt service) subject to state approval as part of the State of Illinois budget, which doesn’t exist and hasn’t for a year or more?

    I’m not clear but it would seem to me that in a state where there hasn’t been any state budget for a long time and money is mostly only spent when a court says not spending the money violates the state constitution / US constitution / federal mandates, building a new arena would not go very far.

  9. It’s the latter, I think. And unfortunately, states tend to take bond debts seriously whether or not they had the money to pay for them when they were issued.

  10. Not only are the Blue Demons not getting 10,000 fans a game now; they’ve not had those crowds since Ray Meyer retired.

  11. Apropos of nothing other than this happened at a DePaul Rosemont game, I wanted to tell my favorite Ray Meyer story. I lived in Chicago in the mid-90’s and was watching a DePaul game (against my alma mater so that was why I was tuned in) on local TV (DePaul by then had very low TV ratings and only a handful of weekend afternoon games were on) and Ray was the color man. He really had little to say about the actual games, little connection to the nuances of the game but occasionally told interesting stories at least. It was a late season game, sparsely attended (I had thought about going but the train ride seemed too much for a game that was pretty meaningless for both teams); DePaul was having another poor year on its way to having Joey fired (it was a year or two before he was fired).

    Anyway, Ray was talking about something or other in the first half when all of a sudden mid-sentence you could hear a muffled “Hey” or greeting coming from Ray and then dead air. The play by play guy (Dan Roan?) just took over calling the game after a few seconds. At the next delay in action the production team cuts to a quick shot of Ray talking to some guy at the game (in retrospect the camera team probably thought this was hilarious). Yes, while announcing the game, during active play and mid-sentence– Ray had greeted a friend and wandered off to have a conversation behind the press table at mid-court.

  12. I hold DePaul to a higher moral standard. #schoolsnotstadiums