Wintrust Arena showcasing future plans

When Barnaby Dinges was a teacher at Francis W. Parker School on the northwest side of Chicago in the early 1980s, he was captivated by the popularity of DePaul men’s basketball. With the likes of then-forward Mark Aguirre, who entered the College Basketball Hall of Fame last year, the Blue Demons attracted huge crowds of basketball fans to witness the most dominant stretch in program history.

“If you had a ticket to a DePaul basketball game, you’d drop everything else you were doing,” Dinges said. “It was bigger than the Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs and White Sox combined.”

Now, he’s assisting with putting the program on his map. Dinges serves as the Chief Marketing and Communications officer for Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which owns and operates McCormick Place. His role consists of generating more business for Wintrust Arena, as the venue is projected to open its doors to the public in October.

David Kennedy, the Assistant General Manager of Entertainment for McCormick Place and Wintrust Arena, was brought onboard in December 2016. He said the arena will host some private events before the aforementioned opening, such as After School Matters, a non-profit organization, holding its annual gala dinner on September 18th, as well as the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame’s dinner, where local and national sports celebrities will be honored, on October 2nd.

DePaul men’s basketball will play Notre Dame in its home opener on November 11th. While the arena doesn’t have any tournaments scheduled beyond the 2019 NCAA Women’s Basketball Regional, Kennedy plans on reeling in a variety of sports fans in the near future.

“Anytime the space is open and free, we’d love to host (basketball, volleyball, tennis and wrestling),” Kennedy said. “We’re looking at everything.”

According to Dinges, almost $2 billion comes directly from McCormick Place, the largest convention center in North America, along with nearly 15,000 jobs within the campus’ four buildings. Hence, he believes the new arena will help continue that trend because of its various functions.

In addition to Wintrust Arena, a brand-new, 39-story Marriott Marquis Chicago hotel is also being constructed. It’ll represent the second hotel in the area, joining the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place.

“Chicago needs to compete with Orlando and Las Vegas,” Dinges said. “We could see how important this campus is to further development of Southeast Chicago.”

As previously announced, the stadium will have 10,387 seats, and its season ticket per game price ranges from $10 to $175. Similar to Allstate Arena, DePaul students will receive free entry to the “Demon Deck,” the Blue Demons’ student section, for each home game. It’s located on the northwest side of the building, overhanging the 100-level baseline seats. The middle tier of the baseline section will be designated for students too.

Dinges said fans will have an unobstructed view of the court throughout the concourse level. He was part of an identical plan when Soldier Field was renovated from 2002-03, working as the communications director. With glass and other translucent materials wrapping around Wintrust arena, spectators will even see inside of it from afar, as well as providing those from within with a view of the encompassing area.

Plus, the $1 million scoreboard will feature roughly 15-foot by 25-foot panels, delivering a massive screen for its audience.

“I think it’s going to have a certain intimacy for fans and provide a wonderful fan experience,” Dinges said.

Sophomore guard Austin Grandstaff, who sat out the 2016-17 campaign after transferring from Ohio State and Oklahoma, said he didn’t over pursue his eligibility last season because he wanted to play in the new arena for three seasons. He’s presumed to be one of DePaul’s primary scoring options in the upcoming campaign.

“I would only have been able to play half a year (at best), so I decided saving it for that (Wintrust Arena) was better in the long run,” Grandstaff said.

According to the school’s ticket representatives, DePaul men’s basketball may host some 6 p.m. starts unlike the prototypical 8 p.m. tipoff at Allstate Arena.

As of now, Savor Brands Inc. will be the lone food and non-alcoholic beverage provider within the arena. The company also supplies the same for McCormick Place. Kennedy said fans would have the option to purchase a number of barbeque and grilled dishes, along with the usual burgers and hot dogs. He’s currently working on selecting alcoholic beverage providers, and those distributors should be released in a month or two.

With DePaul men’s basketball set to tip-off its season in about six months, McCormick Place officials are gearing up for what they hope to be a special run.

“I would love to see DePaul get back to being a basketball powerhouse in a new home,” Dinges said.

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