In an atmosphere of excitement and heightened anticipation, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) Chairman Jack Greenberg, MPEA CEO Lori Healey, MPEA Vice Chair Robert Reiter, DePaul President Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M. and 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell addressed the media about the 10,000-seat multi-purpose Event Center.
The construction site at Cermak Road and Indiana Avenue at the edge of the South Loop is being transformed into a state-of-the-art building with a daring and futuristic design that will showcase DePaul's new basketball home.
"Nobody four and a half years ago would have envisioned that we'd be here today," Emanuel said. "Four and a half years ago when I became mayor, Chicago had slipped to fifth in the convention industry, and now we have reclaimed the leadership. We have hit our mark of 50 million visitors to Chicago.
"I do want to thank Father Dennis as DePaul has been a part of Chicago in every venture. DePaul at every juncture has been a partner with Chicago and knows that as Chicago thrives, DePaul will thrive---as DePaul grows, Chicago will grow.
"As a congressman that used to represent DePaul, I realize it continues to be the university of choice for generations of immigrants who come to this city not just to be a part of Chicago, but who embrace the values of the American dream. And DePaul has been the gateway for generations of immigrants from around the world.
"DePaul has been an anchor to those families, and therefore, an anchor to the city of Chicago."
Father Holtschneider traced the proud and illustrious history of DePaul and the city of Chicago banding together in overcoming adversity and teaming up to build a brighter tomorrow beginning shortly after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
"Father Edward Smith bought land on Webster and Sheffield believing that in order for the city to continue to grow north, the neighborhood needed a church and a school," Holtschneider said. "A small college was added, and we're proud to have become the anchor of the Lincoln Park neighborhood ever since."
Father Holtschneider noted DePaul's partnership with the city in 1998 to revitalize the abandoned and shuttered Goldblatt's department store. He recounted how DePaul proudly partnered with Columbia College and Roosevelt University in 2004 on a "spectacular dormitory to jump-start new development down State Street."
"We're always proud to grow the university in ways that serve the city's needs," Holtschneider said. "And today, we are particularly proud again to build in a way that might assist in the renaissance of the famed Motor Row and its South Loop neighborhood.
"We're also glad to help the city with a new facility for conventions, concerts and many other events for its residents and visitors.
"We're happiest of all that Blue Demon basketball is coming home to Chicago. This brings a whole new meaning to home-court advantage. Our Blue Demons and our fans will have a state-of-the-art facility which members of our community can also take advantage of and enjoy. Our coaches will have a new recruiting catalyst, and DePaul is getting a new venue for commencement ceremonies and lecturers by noted speakers."
Father Holtschneider expressed his gratitude to Mayor Emanuel and the MPEA for their leadership on the Event Center along with DePaul's new South Loop neighbors.
"We look forward to our continued collaboration with the city and the MPEA for years to come," he said. "We also look forward to celebrating many DePaul wins on this spot."
The new arena will include ultramodern amenities such as dedicated locker rooms for the men's and women's basketball programs, locker rooms for officials and visitors, a training room with hydro therapy stations and a fully functional weight room.
It will also feature offices for coaches, a sound system, video, scoreboard and ribbon-board; wireless and TV capabilities including TV truck access points; media, hospitality and interview space; concessions space and an auxiliary box office; a merchandise and gift shop and internal and external signage.
"The overall thrill of a new home is always something everyone wants to have happen, and it's great the day is finally here that we're breaking ground," said DePaul athletics director Jean Lenti Ponsetto, noting that actual construction began six weeks ago. "I know how excited our coaches are to be here today, and I know a lot of our student-athletes on campus are really excited about the fact that we're breaking ground on our building.
"It's a testament to the mayor, Lori Healy and Jim Reilly of MPEA and alderman Pat Dowell for their efforts revitalizing the South Loop and adding to the McCormick Place campus which for years has been a huge economic engine for the city of Chicago.
"This is their building that will host a tremendous amount of events that Chicagoans for generations to come will be able to enjoy. We're just thrilled we get to be a small part of it by being one of the tenants and being part of the construction of this state-of-the-art facility for our men's and women's basketball programs."
Men's basketball coach Dave Leitao called Monday "a monumental day" that speaks not only to a proud basketball tradition, but also to a bright future.
"Father Dennis hit the mark with his understanding of what we're in the middle of and the history connecting DePaul and the city of Chicago," Leitao said. "We have a great opportunity to expand ourselves in the city and in our university. He made me feel very proud.
"This is a game-changer, and this is a game-changing day. We can look towards a new future for men's and women's basketball in the Event Center that will bring us so much attention and recognition in many different areas."
Longtime Blue Demon women's basketball coach Doug Bruno has grown with the university through the days of playing at Alumni Hall and later the move to the Rosemont Horizon which is now the Allstate Arena.
"What hit me today is the reality," Bruno said. "The 2017-18 season will be here in a nanosecond, and we'll be playing games here in no time. The new arena is already having a great impact on our recruiting as recruits get really excited seeing the renderings of the building they will be playing in soon.
"We can't wait to get down here, and we look forward to helping in the development of the South Loop."
Alderman Dowell thanked Father Holtschneider for the university's efforts in reaching out to its new neighbors.
"DePaul has become part of the South Loop community even before the first brick is laid," she said. "The entire DePaul staff has already been involved with so many of our community events."
Dowell, a women's basketball star and Hall of Fame inductee at the University of Rochester then made a gesture to express her gratitude.
"As a former basketball player, if DePaul needs my perspective on the game, I'm available," Dowell said with a laugh.
The Event Center is a key component of MPEA's expanded portfolio of convention and trade show offering designed to open up Chicago to new markets in the industry and continue the growth of the last few years and will also serve as a catalyst for economic development on historic Motor Row and other surrounding areas.
DePaul is a partner with the city of Chicago, the MPEA and Navy Pier in a colossal $1.1 billion project to boost Chicago's tourism and the city's convention and trade-show industry along with revitalizing the historic Motor Row and nearby neighborhoods in the South Loop. The Event Center is expected to attract a multitude of small and mid-size conventions and trade shows to Chicago that in the past weren't large enough to stage at McCormick Place.
* Article was reproduced with permission from DePaul Athletics