Tipoff Luncheon Unveils Bright, Promising Future
Oct. 19, 2016
CHICAGO – The overarching theme at Tuesday’s Tipoff Luncheon at McCormick Place West was all about a new look, a different feel for the annual basketball event and for the future of DePaul basketball.
With a magnificent view of the topped-off Event Center at McCormick Square serving as the backdrop, some of the key figures in this historic project conducted a Q&A session on the new basketball arena scheduled to open next season.
There was an undeniable hint of optimism prevalent among the 250 guests that included Blue Demon donors, season ticketholders and fans. It was the kind of excitement you feel watching the construction of your new home and dwelling on the bright promise of tomorrow.
DePaul Athletics Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto and Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority CEO Lori Healey gave the audience a sneak preview into the synergy of the Blue Demons’ storied basketball tradition and the thriving future of the South Loop community.
“This is incredibly exciting,” Ponsetto said. “We’ve been talking about this since 1976, building a new arena in the city. It harkens back to a time when my husband Joe Ponsetto, Dave Corzine and Randy Ramsey played at Alumni Hall.
“It is a game-changer, and it speaks to the invaluable contributions DePaul has made to the fabric of Chicago in the fields of business, education, law, health and so much more. It is pretty special for us to have this opportunity of laying some tracks in the McCormick Square neighborhood.
“We are putting our resources into helping the city of Chicago grow and prosper. DePaul has always played a prominent role in the economic engine of the city. I’m excited for the 106,000 DePaul alumni who live in the Chicago area.”
Many of the alumni will enjoy an easier commute to the Event Center, whether by public transportation or one of the main highways or expressways that connect to the South Loop.
And, the Event Center and the Marriott Marquis hotel that will be connected to the new area, is only the beginning of this near South Side neighborhood transforming into what DePaul Vice President of Facilities Operations Bob Janis forecast as Wrigleyville South.
Another major hotel is being constructed close to the Event Center. New restaurants, sports bars, shops and boutiques are on the way.
News surfaced last May of plans to develop a robust neighborhood right by the Event Center that could include several thousand homes, millions of square feet for office space, stores and restaurants, public riverfront access, a Riverwalk and a community that will connect the South Loop with Chinatown.
“This is a really tremendous feeling,” Healey said. “Just think, it was a year ago that we came to this site for the official ground-breaking. And now, in just another year, it will be done.
“The new Event Center and the Marriott Marquis attached to it will have a tremendous impact on this neighborhood. We would not have made the investment in the new arena without the partnership with DePaul.
“It is in a uniquely situated location. With the construction of another hotel getting underway soon, I don’t know of any sports facility with two hotels so close to the arena. The block of Prairie Avenue with the arena and hotel is going to be blocked off and available as a concourse for outdoor activities and will add even more to the Event Center atmosphere.”
Beginning in 2017, the Event Center will be the launching point and final destination for new students arriving at the nation’s largest Catholic university.
“When new students first come to DePaul, their first event will be an academic convocation of faculty and students in the new arena,” Ponsetto said. “They will go on to watch many games over the next four years at the Event Center. Their graduation ceremony will be here. These students will start and finish their college experience right here, and this is the place that will create many lasting memories about their time at DePaul.”
Ponsetto told the Tipoff audience the idea of building a new arena started with a talk between DePaul President Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M. and Mayor Richard M. Daley and continued with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Bringing basketball back to the city was critical because Chicago has always been such an important part of DePaul’s history.
“We are going to host NCAA tournament events, and the new arena can be used for high school basketball state tournaments and events like the Public League and Catholic League championship games,” Ponsetto said. “There will be conventions, trade shows and concerts booked at the new venue.”
In some ways, DePaul men’s basketball coach Dave Leitao’s vision of reconnecting the Blue Demons to their glorious history coincides with the South Loop’s transformative development.
“This is going to have such a tremendous impact on the South Loop area and neighborhood,” Leitao said. “In addition to the arena, there are going to be restaurants, retailers, hotels and so much more being built around it.
“But a big part of my vision for all of this is the 10 or 11-year-old boy or girl who will now have an opportunity to come to a game. That’s the origin and how you create a following year after year of fans young and old buying into your basketball program. Believe me, that’s a huge advantage. That’s part of how you bring on an atmosphere of winning.
“This is an exciting time, and a great opportunity for our fans to take a peek into the future. For the next three, four, five years and beyond, there is going to be such a vibrancy surrounding this community as it becomes a new part of the city.”
Women’s basketball coach Doug Bruno has his vision for the new arena and his nationally acclaimed program.
“I’m thrilled about the new arena for DePaul, the city of Chicago and the South Loop area,” Bruno said. “I’d love to think it’s going to be a recruiting benefit.
“At the same time, what we’ve accomplished on the court is something that has to start enticing players to come here and understand we are one of only six schools to compete in the last 14 NCAA tournaments. Schools like Connecticut, Notre Dame, Stanford, Tennessee, Oklahoma and DePaul---that’s pretty good company that we’re in.”
Bruno followed up talking about another great passion in his life.
“What I envision is what I’ve been working towards my entire coaching life---to develop a market need for those 10,000 seats,” Bruno said. “I love playing on campus because it creates opportunities for the student body to come out and share the collegiate experience by watching great women’s basketball.
“At the same time, I’d like to see the women’s college game expand its market to need more than the 3,000 seats at McGrath-Phillips Arena and have a need for those 10,000 seats.
“That’s why I still get up and do this every single day---to get DePaul to another level on the court and at the same time, to grow this game.”
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