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House panel approves funding plan for DePaul basketball arena at McPier

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SPRINGFIELD-A push by Mayor Rahm Emanuel to authorize McPier to build a $173 million basketball arena for DePaul University that would double as an "event center" for mid-size conventions advanced in the Illinois House Tuesday.

The proposal was contained in an expansive, 371-page economic development package carried by state Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion) and that passed the House Revenue & Finance Committee by a 6-3 vote. It now awaits a full House vote.

"This is a jobs bill," Bradley said. "The notion of this is to create economic activity and jobs throughout the state of Illinois."

It extends a deadline on tax-increment financing district and allows bonds already authorized to be used for convention activities and hotels to extend to land acquisition for and construction of the 10,000-seat DePaul basketball arena.

Emanuel's administration, DePaul and Gov. Pat Quinn's administration expressed support for the package Thursday.

Bradley's legislation, backed by Will County, also permits the Illinois Department of Transportation to enter into a series of public-private agreements with contractors to develop and operate the long-stalled, proposed south-suburban airport in Peotone.

Additionally, the legislation contains provisions authorizing $3 million in annual funding during the next six years to transform south suburban brownfield area into an intermodal facility and granting Rosemont new borrowing authority for convention center renovations.

Republicans balked at the array of projects in the legislation, which surfaced for the first time Thursday.

"This is more than a Christmas tree bill. This is a Christmas tree, New Years and July 4th all rolled into one," said state Rep. David Harris (R-Arlington Heights), the ranking Republican on the House panel.

The linchpin of Bradley's legislation is the McPier component, which paves the way for construction of a basketball arena that would become the new men's and women's basketball home of the DePaul Blue Demons.

The arena would double as an "event center" for mid-sized shows too large for Navy Pier and too small for McCormick Place would be located on a site bounded by Cermak, Prairie, 21st and Indiana.

On the southeast corner will be a boutique hotel with 500 rooms. That's in addition to the 1,200-room "headquarters hotel" previously announced.

DePaul will contribute $70 million to the new arena and control revenues from the stadium's concessions, 22 suites and 300 club seats, but only during DePaul games.

The nation's largest Catholic university will also have the exclusive right to name the arena -- either for DePaul or for one of the university's major donors, but not for a corporate sponsor.

The remaining $70 million in construction costs will come from the McPier bond fund, which has resources left over from a 2010 restructuring. McPier bonds are backed by local hotel and motel taxes.

Another $33 million in land costs will be paid for by the surrounding tax-increment-financing district. Some of the land is already in McPier's control. Other parcels may require use of the city's sweeping eminent domain powers.

Under the agreement with DePaul, the city would be free to use the arena 24 times a year -- either for athletic events involving Chicago Public Schools, Chicago City Colleges or other public events.

A so-called "sky bridge" would connect the arena to McCormick Place West.

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