PDNA addresses possible DePaul sports arena for South Loop
January 4, 2013
A new street, Gateway Avenue, is proposed for Mark Twain Park.

By Lisa R. Jenkins

The Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance (PDNA) on Dec. 5 held a community meeting at Second Presbyterian Church to make residents aware of a possible new DePaul University Arena being considered for the South Loop/Near South Prairie District neighborhood.

DePaul University recently began searching for a new home for its men’s basketball team. Greg Greenwell, director of media relations for DePaul, said the recent launch of the University’s Vision 2018: Dedication to Excellence, Commitment to Community plan involves bringing men’s basketball back to the city closer to DePaul’s South Loop campus.

“We are currently reviewing several options to fulfill our goal of bringing the Blue Demons back to Chicago and have no doubt that our goal will be achieved,” Greenwell said.

One option: DePaul officials want to build an 8,000- to 12,000-seat arena in the South Loop/Near South area. The DePaul Blue Demons currently play at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL; DePaul’s contract there expires in 2016.

DePaul and the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA, or “McPier”), a corporation created by the Illinois General Assembly that owns and manages the McCormick Place complex and adjacent property, are in unofficial talks about constructing a new DePaul Arena on MPEA property near McCormick Place.

The parcel under consideration is bounded by 21st Street on the north, Calumet Avenue on the east, Cermak Road on the south, and Indiana Avenue on the west. The site’s advantages include large, existing parking lots and proximity to the new Green Line station the Chicago Transit Authority is planning for Cermak Road.

If built, the venue also would host concerts and other events and might become home to the Chicago Rush indoor football

PDNA is concerned about issues affecting quality of life in the community such as education, development, and traffic and infrastructure. It surveyed approximately 700 area residents concerning the proposed arena prior to its Dec. 5 meeting.

Tina Feldstein, president of PDNA, said of the survey that “Our purpose was to get in front of the speculated, unofficial plans for a 12,000-seat sports arena.”

Survey results showed that, of the residents living in the proposed arena’s immediate area, 70% do not support it and 30% favor it. In the outlying surrounding blocks, 62% oppose the arena, with 38% thinking it may be a good idea.

Objections include possible increased noise and traffic and elimination of part of Prairie Avenue.

Also causing contention are two Chicago landmarks that sit within the property targeted for the arena. Cobb & Frost Architects built the Harriett F. Rees House, located at 2110 S. Prairie Ave., in 1888, and N. Max Dunning designed the rectangular five-story American Book Co. Building, located at 320-330 E. Cermak Rd./2131 S. Calumet Ave., in 1912.

Workers would have to demolish both to make room for the arena. Arena proponents note the facility would help restaurants and other businesses near the site.

MPEA could use its bonding authority to raise funds to raze existing structures and build a new arena.

At a press conference late in 2012, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he hoped the Blue Demons would return to Chicago but that “the ultimate location is up to them [DePaul].”

Meeting attendees also discussed a proposed road easement that is part of the ordinance to transfer land at 15th Street and Prairie Avenue from Central Station Development to the Chicago Park District for developing Mark Twain Park, located between south Indiana Avenue and Lake Shore Drive at 15th Place.

This transfer would allow workers to complete the park’s portion east of Prairie Avenue and to create a new street, Gateway Avenue.

Gateway Avenue would parallel the Saint Charles Air Line railroad embankment from south Prairie Avenue and east 15th Street down to Lake Shore Drive at 18th Street; it also would split the park in two. According to the PDNA, “The future Gateway Avenue road is intended to provide vehicular access to the proposed Gateway development over the tracks by creating an artery from Lake Shore Drive at 18th Street into our neighborhood.”

To learn more about the PDNA, please visit www.pdnachicago.com.