DePaul Explores Lincoln Park Arena Option... Again

By Benjy Lipsman in News on Apr 17, 2013 5:40PM

depaul_blue_demons_logo.jpg For years now, DePaul has been talking about building a new basketball arena that's closer to its downtown campuses and its fan base than their current home at the Allstate Arena in suburban Rosemont. A number of locations have been considered, but thus far the university hasn't been able to commit to a plan.

DePaul is now in early talks with A. Finkl & Sons about their 22-acre property in West Lincoln Park, along Cortland between Clybourn and Elston. The steelmaker is in the process of closing their North Side plant while consolidating operations on the city's South Side. The parcel of land is drawing interest from many fronts, as the riverfront location is attractive for luxury residential while others want to see it remain part of a protected industrial corridor. DePaul's interest is easy to see, since this is likely the most feasible location to build close to the school's main Lincoln Park campus. The location is also close to the expressway, the Clybourn Metra station and Armitage Brown Line stop.

A year ago, DePaul began exploring a number of sites in relatively close proximity to its North Side campus including this one, but nothing materialized at that time. As the search for a city home continued, the Blue Demons were offered 10 years rent free to move to the United Center. The school rejected that offer in March, stating that they preferred someplace where they'd be the primary tenant.

Of late, the front-running proposal for DePaul seemed to be a 12,000 seat stadium near McCormick Place. But that plan is no slam-dunk as it has hit snags due to a lack of state financing, land ownership issues and neighborhood concerns voiced by South Loop residents. So it appears that in light of the McCormick Place plan, DePaul is again revisiting one of the early sites. But like the McPier plan, the issue of financing and additional uses for such an arena remain big questions.

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A. Finkl & Sons. Photo Credit: bricolagelife
But DePaul has a number of reasons to aggressively pursue a new arena project deal however, as the school hopes to improve its attractiveness to top recruits and draw more fans to its games. The Blue Demons are charter members of the newly reconstituted Big East conference, formed when the Seven Catholic shools without football teams broke free of the Big East (keeping the name). The group will add a number of other Midwestern mid-major basketball powerhouses to the league, setting up what should become one of the nation's most exciting basketball conferences. While a basement dweller in recent years, the new league gives DePaul a bit of a clean slate to try and regain the glory of the Ray Meyer era.

Further incentive to upgrade their program and facilities is the likelihood of more competition for the crown as the area's top college basketball program. With their recent hiring of Duke assistant coach Chris Collins, Northwestern has made it clear the Big Ten school intends to elevating its basketball program. That could mean a tougher fight to land the region's best prep players and draw fans to games. That was hard enough for the Blue Demons when the Wildcats drew mostly from their alumni base. If they start drawing more fans who are simply fans of college basketball, DePaul will have to work that much harder to land butts in their seats. And new in-town arena would certainly go a long way toward doing that.