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DePaul's Blue Demons might have blown their chance at a new arena
DePaul University is getting boxed out in its quest to build a basketball arena for its Blue Demons.
The school has overplayed its hand, turned down an offer that would have helped its athletic program and now must compete for property that will attract other bidders. The price of its wish list is rising.
Will Mayor Rahm Emanuel ride to the rescue? He wants to liberate the Blue Demons from Rosemont, but if we’re talking public subsidies for a sports venue, remember that voter sentiment kept Emanuel from opening the civic checkbook for Wrigley Field, where the Cubs traditionally draw capacity or close-to-it crowds over 81 dates. DePaul draws about 8,000 people per game for its men’s team, and we’re talking 16 games a year.
The numbers don’t justify spending for a new arena, unless DePaul gets a partner. It has gone to McCormick Place in search of one, figuring it could share a facility with an agency that wants to host large-scale public gatherings, a market that’s distinct from industry trade shows.
But there are obstacles to a happy alliance. Some became apparent Monday when property near McCormick Place changed hands in a foreclosure auction.
CenterPoint Properties Trust, an Oak Brook-based industrial developer, took control of about five acres immediately north of McCormick Place, bidding $65 million for sites at 230 and 330 E. Cermak.
Because CenterPoint owned debt on the property amounting to about $84 million, it submitted a noncash “credit bid,” a legal device through which a lender can assert its stake. The $65 million sum suggests what CenterPoint thinks the property is worth.
James Clewlow, chief investment officer at CenterPoint, said the company is reviewing all its options for the property, and he declined to discuss anything related to DePaul.
Another person close to the matter said CenterPoint doesn’t want to redevelop the land itself but wants to subdivide and sell it. Buyers could eye sites for a hotel, a retail and entertainment complex or especially a data center. The property is immediately west of the Lakeside Technology Center, the old Donnelley printing plant that’s been transformed into a 1.1 million-square-foot host for computer equipment. All the required power and fiber optics are in place.
“It certainly is at the corner of Main and Main as far as data centers are concerned,” Clewlow commented.
All the potential uses could force DePaul out of the picture or push the land beyond the price range of the university and even McCormick Place, which also is in the hotel development business.
An added complication is that the sale includes a landmark at 330 E. Cermak. It’s the 1912 American Book Co. building, distinguished by a tower, ornamental carvings and arched windows. It must be a part of whatever gets built around it.
Clewlow said the presence of the landmark hasn’t been a deterrent to interest. “Most people view it as an attribute. It’s viewed favorably,” he said.
DePaul earlier this year turned down an offer to play its games at the United Center for 10 years at no rent. It also has begun talking with A. Finkl & Sons Co. about its plant at 2011 N. Southport, which the steel company is phasing out in a move to the South Side. It’s close to DePaul’s campus, but the site is unlikely to draw a partner who would share costs.
Cynthia Lawson, DePaul vice president, said the university will not comment on potential sites.
DePaul reportedly turned down the United Center in part because the Blue Demons wouldn’t rate the prime dates. It passed up a slam dunk.
David Roeder reports on real estate at 6:22 p.m. Thursdays on WBBM-AM (780) and WBBM-FM (105.9). The reports are repeated at 10:22 p.m. Thursday and 7:22 a.m. Sunday.
American Book Company photo by John H. White