By Dave Wischnowsky-
(CBS) So, Mayor Rahm Emanuel reportedly has a $300 million plan to build new basketball arena at McCormick Place and bring the DePaul Blue Demons back into the city after more than 30 years in Rosemont.
But is this place a dream stadium, or just a dream?
And beyond that, could it end up as a nightmare for taxpayers?
On Monday afternoon, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Emanuel is expected to announce this week his plans to construct a 12,000-seat arena along with two mega hotels on McPier property in the hopes of expanding convention and meeting business in Chicago.
According to the Sun-Times, sources said that the tentative plan is for the arena’s hefty $300 million tab to be divided up among DePaul, a naming rights sponsor, and taxpayer money that would come from a McPier Bond fund and possibly (in other words, surely) city tax-increment financing.
The newspaper reported that DePaul, taxpayers and a corporate sponsor could each be responsible for paying $100 million apiece. It’s startling enough that Emanuel would ask Chicago taxpayers to fund an arena for DePaul hoops when the city just refused to assist the Cubs with the renovation of Wrigley Field. But what really struck me is that the mayor apparently seems to think he really could nab $100 million for this new arena’s naming rights. Because I just have a difficult time seeing that happening.
And if it doesn’t happen, well, you know darn well who will end up on the hook for the rest of the project’s bill. Yes, that would be you, Mr. and Mrs. John Q. Taxpayer.
I hope you really like DePaul basketball.
The reason for my doubts about Emanuel and DePaul securing such an enormous sum for naming rights is because just two weeks ago, the University of Illinois announced that it had reached a $60 million, 30-year agreement with State Farm Insurance to rebrand the iconic 50-year-old Assembly Hall as State Farm Center.
According to the Sports Business Journal, Illinois’ deal was the biggest corporate naming rights contract in college sports history, exceeding the $40 million, 20-year deal for Fresno State’s Save Mart Center, which opened in 2003 – when the economy was considerably healthier.
More recently, the University of Nebraska in 2011 signed an $11.25-million, 25-year naming rights deal with Pinnacle Bank for the Huskers’ new basketball arena, which will open next season.
In terms of state and national brand appeal, I’d argue that DePaul – which finished 11-21 this past season, has just six Big East Conference wins in the past three seasons and hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2004 – is closer to Fresno State and Nebraska than it is to Illinois.
The Blue Demons simply aren’t a name-brand team.
Their proposed new arena, however, would be located in a name-brand city, which certainly could add to the naming rights appeal. But by how much?
I’m sure that Emanuel is also hoping to sell possible sponsors on the arena’s potential to host concerts and mid-sized convention events, but the fact is that it won’t be Chicago’s prime location for either.
The top concert tours will still gravitate toward the United Center and its 20,500 seats over the 12,000 seats inside DePaul’s new stadium. The same goes for the highest-profile conventions, which could enjoy greater space at either Navy Pier or inside McCormick Place itself.
In October 2011, when Illinois was seeking a $60 to $70 million naming rights sponsor for Assembly Hall, the Sports Business Journal reported that Warren Hood, associate director of athletics for external operations, said the school had attracted initial interest from four Illinois companies, all with a national footprint.
Hood wouldn’t say who those companies were, but Emanuel had better hope that one of them from the trio that didn’t secure Assembly Hall’s naming rights is still interested in brokering such a deal with DePaul.
And, you know, willing to pay an extra $40 million for it.
Otherwise, the Blue Demons deal will end up bedeviling taxpayers even more than it looks like it already could.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.