By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) So, DePaul’s proposed new basketball arena – barring overruns – won’t actually cost the $300 million that was reported earlier this week.
That’s good to hear.
However, the 10,000-seat venue located near McCormick Place still will cost about $173 million – barring overruns – and public taxpayer money will indeed be used to help pay for much of a facility that will largely benefit a private university.
That’s not as good to hear. Especially when we don’t know who will pay for overruns.
Or, rather, that we do.
In any case, however, the question of who ultimately foots the bill isn’t the one I’m interested in delving into today. Rather, it’s this: Is DePaul’s new arena actually a good thing for its students?
On one hand, in terms of proximity, it certainly isn’t a worse thing for them than the Blue Demons men’s basketball team playing its games in Rosemont, which is 15 miles of snarling traffic away from the school’s Lincoln Park campus.
Last June, for a story for ChicagoSide entitled “Dear DePaul: It’s Time To Bring Big-Time College Basketball Back To Chicago,” I visited the school’s Lincoln Park campus to ask students about just how much not having hoops played near their dorms dampened their enthusiasm.
The answer: A lot.
Danny DeCicco, a 21-year-old DePaul junior – and big basketball fan – told me, “I’ve been to one game. In three years.” He and his friend Joe Laskero, a 22-year-old senior, explained that most DePaul students simply don’t have the time, let alone the interest, to take the school’s free student fan bus all the way out to Allstate Arena in Rosemont – especially to watch a bad basketball team.
“People joke about it,” Laskero said. “They joke all the time how no one goes to games.”
But, Laskero also added, students would if DePaul played its games closer to campus, saying: “There would definitely be a better fan culture.
On that topic, during Thursday’s unveiling of the plans for DePaul’s new city arena, athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto said, “Major colleges and universities the size of DePaul have spectacular facilities for their student athletes and for their students on campus. From that perspective, we’re probably a little bit behind.”
But with this proposed new arena, DePaul still won’t have that kind of facility on its campus. And doesn’t that still leave its students “a little bit behind” – or, perhaps, a lot?
According to the Regional Transit Authority’s “Trip Planner” website, it’s still as much as a 43-minute trip from the heart of DePaul’s campus to McCormick Place. That includes riding the CTA Red Line 4.6 miles south to the Roosevelt stop and then either walking or catching a bus to cover the 1.1 mile distance from there. That’s still no small jaunt – especially near the lakefront in the dead of a Chicago winter, which is when most of the basketball games will be played.
Nevertheless, DePaul student body president Caroline Winsett on Thursday told Danny Ecker of Crain’s Chicago that she thinks “the flexibility in being able to access this facility is better. You can come after class and take the train or cab or bike as opposed to the venue to the north [Allstate Arena], which is trickier at times.”
She may be right, although I don’t see many students biking from Lincoln Park to the South Loop in January and February.
On Thursday, Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass wrote about the new DePaul arena that “Students would have to take public transportation or drive, and then shell out cash to park. United Center owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Rocky Wirtz offered to let DePaul play on the West Side for free. DePaul turned them down.”
Kass added, “There is an alternative. Last year, DePaul was looking at the roughly 22-acre Finkl & Sons Co. site in Lincoln Park. DePaul students wouldn’t have to drive. They could walk. The rest of us could take the ‘L.’”
But, he wrote, Ald. Michele Smith, 43rd, doesn’t like the idea, commenting, “If you were to say, ‘Let’s put a stadium over here on Finkl Steel,’ and you create some enormous 3,000-place parking lot, I mean, really? Is that the best way to use space? Having it here in Lincoln Park is probably not the right match. We certainly don’t want it in the heart of Lincoln Park. It’s just too darn crowded here.”
Perhaps it is. But that’s also, you know, where DePaul actually is.
And while basketball coming back to the city could be a good thing for Chicago, I’m still not sure that the new arena is such a great thing for DePaul’s students.
And I can’t help but think that in this game of politics, the ball is just being passed over their heads.’
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.