DePaul arena hits $110 million in cost overruns, thanks to too-soft dirt

When last we heard from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to spend $125 million on a complex of buildings that would include a new arena for private DePaul University, it had just gotten final approval. Except that “final” is always a dangerous notion in the arena biz, something Chicago is finding out now that the price tag on the arena has soared by $110 million:

A sticking point is the “dug-in” design of the 10,000-seat arena, which places its playing floor well below ground level. That feature has pushed construction costs above the $140 million that McPier and city officials optimistically projected when they announced the project in May 2013, sources said.

Although a final price has not been set, the cost of that design, by New Haven, Conn.-based Pelli Clark Pelli, could be as much as $250 million, sources said.

Yeah, that’s not good. Apparently the problem is that nobody noticed they were going to be building the arena in soft glacial soil, which tends to cave in if you don’t shore it up with retaining walls, which is pricey. From the sound of it, McPier (the totally awesome nickname for Chicago’s Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority) will look to redesign the arena to bring down the price tag; if that doesn’t work, Crain’s Chicago Business gives precisely zero information on how the cost overruns would be covered. This was just the bestest idea ever!

[UPDATE: At least one Crain’s Chicago Business columnist does not think it was the bestest idea ever.]

Chicago is still building that $125m arena for DePaul, in case you were wondering

Heather McCoy of KUCI, whose show I’ll be making my weekly appearance on at 8 am Pacific today, asked me yesterday what was up with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s much-ridiculed plan to build a $125 million basketball arena for private DePaul University. The answer, it turns out: Damn the ridicule, full speed ahead.

The Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority board has approved the purchase of the final land for a planned entertainment district in the South Loop around McCormick Place. … The city is contributing $55 million in tax increment financing to McPier for the project, of which $26 million will go for hotel and ABC building land and $29 million toward hotel construction. McPier paid $14 million for the remaining land needed for the DePaul arena.

The state legislature approved the plan last spring, then the city council followed suit with a “very quiet” vote in favor last July. Now that the land has been acquired, construction can begin, and Chicago will at last have the 10,000-seat arena that it’s been lacking for all those concerts by bands that are too big for 5,000-seat venues but can’t fill 20,000-seat venues. In other words: Nickelback, please never retire.

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!

Illinois Gov signs bill to add Emanuel’s DePaul arena subsidy plan

Fresh from his win on Wrigley Field renovations, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel got good news on one of his other pet projects yesterday, as Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill that would help allow him to use public funds for a new arena for private DePaul University. Exactly what it does to help isn’t something that any Chicago-area news outlet seems to have reported, because Quinn mostly talked about building a third airport in Chicago, and what kind of modern journalist writes about things other than what the person giving the press conference wants them to write about? That’s just crazy talk.

Quinn’s bill-signing came one day after Chicago teachers protested 2,000 school layoffs that were announced last Friday, calling on the governor not to approve the DePaul project while the school system is “being decimated by massive budget cuts.” Maybe they should have tried mailing the governor a dead fish.

DePaul faculty, students protest Emanuel’s proposed arena deal

The list of people in Chicago who think Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to spend $125 million on a new basketball arena for private DePaul University — which already includes pretty much everyone in Chicago, especially those who are already outraged by Emanuel’s plan to close 50 city schools to save money — can now add some new members: 24 DePaul professors who say that spending $70 million in university money on the arena is “wildly out of line with other university priorities.” According to DNAinfo:

The letter focuses on DePaul’s fiscal situation, specifically a cap and temporary postponement of annual raises and the “unprecedented” levels of student debt faced by students.

“2013 is for a lot of reasons, not the right time to get into this,” said Craig Sirles, an associate professor and chair of DePaul’s English Department.

A campus petition to oppose the arena plan, meanwhile, now has more than 1,000 signatures, including DePaul basketball player Cleveland Melvin.

 

Chicago impact study assumes DePaul will nearly quadruple attendance at new arena

That 12,000-seat DePaul University basketball arena that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to spend $125 million in city money on already sounded like a pretty bad idea, given that DePaul is 1) a private college that 2) only draws 8,000 fans a game and 3) has plenty of other arenas it can play at. But it sounds even more craptacular now that Crain’s Chicago has revealed the figures for how many of those tickets are actually used:

Attendance at Blue Demons home games in suburban Rosemont over the last three years has averaged around 2,900, according to Allstate Arena ticket records obtained by Crain’s. That’s about 35 percent of the school’s reported numbers and 30 percent of what McPier officials are projecting for the new arena…

This past season, the official average number of fans that went to DePaul home games at Allstate Arena was even lower: 2,610 based on the Ticketmaster scan system, which tracks exactly how many people come inside.

That is far below DePaul’s reported average home game attendance of 7,938 over those 16 home games. Over the course of the entire season, the school reported total attendance at Allstate Arena at 127,020. The actual attendance was 41,771.

Why are more than 5,000 people a game buying tickets and then not using them? They’re not, explains Crain’s — the discrepancy is largely because of tickets that the university itself buys, then makes available to students or charities free of charge. But even students and charities don’t want to go to DePaul basketball games, so the seats remain empty.

Why does any of this matter? Because the economic impact study commissioned to support the arena project counts those phantom fans as actual money-spending consumers:

That report projects an average attendance of 9,500 at DePaul men’s basketball games in the new 10,000-seat arena, or 152,000 people over 16 games. That’s more than 40 percent of the projected annual attendance of 370,000 for all events at the arena, including concerts, shows and conventions.

While the school would likely still pay to reserve student seats to games at the new arena, recent history suggests the butts won’t actually be in the seats, nor would the fans be out and about spending money in the neighborhood.

So, to recap:

Emanuel’s proposed DePaul arena would use $125m in city money, sap schools budget

Remember how I said yesterday that we’d have to wait till later this week for financial details of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to build a $300 million arena for DePaul University? Well, turns out we only had to wait a few hours, thanks to whichever City Hall sources leaked them to the Chicago Sun-Times:

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to build a 12,000-seat basketball arena near McCormick Place that would double as a home for mid-sized shows would be built with $125 million in public funds — $55 million in tax-increment financing and $70 million in hotel taxes, sources said Tuesday.

That’s a pretty big chunk of change for what amounts to a minor-league-sized arena that would be mostly used by a private Catholic university along with, maybe, some conventions or something? And TIF money, as has been covered extensively in the past, has in Chicago in particular ended up raiding property-tax revenues that would otherwise be used for school funding — something that WLS radio reporter Bill Cameron tried to ask Emanuel about yesterday, but “he fled to his SUV and left.”

The Sun-Times article also makes it look like there’s some significant neighborhood opposition to the arena plan, with South Loop neighborhood group leader Tina Feldstein declaring, “We’re not afraid of tall buildings. We’re not asking for this to be quiet with no activity. But, we want to see it become a destination [year-round] — not a few times a year. An arena with 12,000 seats is a massive wall that’s essentially going to just deaden the neighborhood.” Mayors usually get what they want in these projects, especially Chicago mayors, but in terms of public perception, Emanuel is already digging himself a pretty big hole to start.

Emanuel to propose $300m DePaul arena/convention center/maybe casino using public money

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel may have held firm on not spending public money on Wrigley Field renovations (though giving the Cubs tons of other free public goodies is another story), but that’s apparently not going to stop him from announcing a $300 million, 12,000-seat arena for the private Catholic school DePaul University that could also be used for conventions and maybe a casino and, and…

No details, including of how all this would be paid for, will be available until Emanuel’s official announcement later this week. In the meantime, go look at Wrigley Field made out of Legos, it’ll make you feel better.