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TIFs Tue Feb 11 2014
DePaul University student activists are trying to halt the new $173 million basketball arena construction project, which is currently set to begin later this year.
The student organization, the Contingent for an Alternatively Funded Arena, has been working since the plan to build an arena was announced in May, approximately a week after 54 Chicago Public Schools were voted be shut down.
CAFA has plans to meet with DePaul's president again on Feb. 20, as well as Jeff Bethke, DePaul's treasurer. In the organization's second meeting with the administration, it hopes to make many arguments to persuade the university heads to back out of the project and not pull out a nearly $70 million loan.
Tom Mondschean, a professor of economics at DePaul, released a memo to all faculty council members expressing the proposal from a financial perspective. The memo was reviewed by central administration before it was sent out.
In a letter signed by several faculty, it was suggested that the $70 million could be better used in other areas such as higher financial aid for students. We should be careful to distinguish between one-time purchases such as this proposal and annual expenditures such as student financial aid. It is not a fair comparison since we would not use long-term capital investments to fund operating expenses (at least I hope not).
The memo also notes that Mondschean spoke with university officials who believe that the revenue projections will not pan out, and will therefore increase the deficit accordingly.
CAFA's considers DePaul financial situation "not stable enough" for such a large investment, as the university has a $15 million annual deficit due to DePaul's athletic department. The deficit has increased over the past 10 years by $4 million, but with no athletic recognition. Although DePaul is recognized for its place in the 1979 Final Four, the team has not made an NCAA appearance since 2004. The team has consistently ranked low in the Big East conference.
On top of the athletic program that has only lost the university money, DePaul has the 8th highest paid NCAA coach. Oliver Purnell, the men's basketball head coach, is the highest paid faculty member at DePaul with an annual salary of $2.2 million.
Apart from the athletic department's losses, the university's academic budget has not fared well. All colleges were asked to cut $18 million from their budgets, according to Dean Suchar, the Liberal Arts & Science College dean. In the LAS College alone, this equates to $2.89 million and cutting 30 full-time positions. A salary freeze has also been announced for the 2015 year for any faculty member making more than $50,000.
The CAFA students know that their financial arguments will not convince their university's president, so they also hope to appeal to DePaul's reputation for social justice.
"This partnership with the city and the MPEA (Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority) will negatively affect DePaul's reputation as a leader in social justice," expressed Jonathan Slater, 21, a senior Political Science and Arabic double major at DePaul. Slater is also an active member of CAFA.
DePaul was founded on the mission of Saint Vincent de Paul, the founder of the Congregation of the Mission, whose objective emphasizes service to others in its mission statement. CAFA students fight for this value specifically, claiming that the arena only takes away from the DePaul and Chicago community, and therefore works against the Vincentian mission.
"We don't know if we can actually stop the arena from being built," Slater said, "But we don't want it to go through as if we didn't put up a fight. Even if the administration won't follow the Vincentian ways of service, we want the Chicago community to know that the students have not lost that compassion."
Freshmen at DePaul University are required to do community service through their "Discover Chicago" or "Explore Chicago" classes. Community service requirements at the start of their DePaul career set the precedent for joining a community that prides itself on providing service to the Chicago community.
Slater said that CAFA plans to push for a service program for Bronzeville if the arena does get built, as it feels an obligation to help the community since the group feels an arena likely will not.
Supporters of the arena feel that the event center will improve Chicago's entertainment industry. They also argue that the arena will revitalize the neighborhood of Bronzeville, as the arena would be opposite McCormick Place West on Cermak. The arena will be purchased in tandem with the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, the group who owns McCormick Place. DePaul will own 40 percent of the arena and the MPEA will own the other 60 percent.
Cory Dolins, a sophomore basketball player at DePaul, considers the arena great for the basketball program, the entire university and the school's relationship with Chicago.
"The arena will finally be in Chicago, which had to be done," explained Dolins. "The arena being in Chicago and State of the Art will be a seller point to recruits, especially those in Chicago in order for them to stay home. I wish the stadium was on the Lincoln Park campus but this location is much better than Rosemont."
The original plan that Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced in the spring calls for the purchase two plots of land near Cermak Road and Michigan Avenue, one for the arena and one for a Marriott hotel. The city plans to use tax increment financing, or TIF, funds to help fund its share of construction. These plans are currently halted however because the owner of the land, James McHugh, is suing the city. He argues that he already had approval to build a data center on the property that the mayor wants to use for the Marriott hotel.
DePaul President Father Holtschneider supports the building of the athletic arena. When speaking with members of CAFA at a meeting in November, Holtschneider said the arena is in the best interest for DePaul and will increase recruitment of undergraduate students. DePaul is hoping to open the arena in time for the 2016-2017 season.