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McCormick Place Arena Moving Forward Despite Higher Cost

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While cost overruns aren't a completely shocking development for a large Chicago construction project, today's announcement of a multi-million dollar increase for the proposed McCormick Place arena is confirming critic's worst fears, and raising questions about whether this revitalization project can realize its goal of becoming an entertainment district for the near South Side. Announced and approved by the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority at today's monthly board meeting, the new plan puts the price tag at $164 million, a 17 percent increase, with significant design changes to César Pelli's original concept.

The once-subterranean structure, which would have sunk the court for the 10,000 seat arena below ground, will begin at ground level, with lower roof trusses, an elevated main concourse and a new entrance and grand staircase on the southwest corner of the building. The Prairie District 3 group, led by Clark Construction, was awarded the contract. While it's still a sizable jump, it's less than the 75% overrun projected for the original subterranean design, meant to placate neighbors wary of an intrusive concrete box.

The price jump, attributed to labor costs and an "underestimation" of the total bill, according to McPier CEO Jim Reilly, would be split by the taxpayer-financed Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority and DePaul, though the university has yet to officially comment. The delay also pushed the arena's opening date back to mid-2017, missing the 2016-2017 DePaul basketball season.

As Joe Cahill noted earlier this month in Crain's Chicago Busines, the rose-colored assumptions propping up the plan's future success — a Blue Demons' team pulling in five times more fans to pack the arena during home games, and other organizations clamoring to use a new mid-size arena the rest of the year — don't really add up. The math also gets complicated when you look at McPier's $91.4 million operating loss last year.

The tweaked design earned the praise of 3rd Ward Ald. Pat Dowell, who claimed residents were happy. But it remains to be seen if everything adds up by the time the arena opens.

·Contract approved to build arena/hotel near McCormick Place [Sun-Times]
·McPier greenlights tweaked—and pricier—DePaul arena design [Crain's]
·McPier should stop chasing rainbows, dump DePaul arena [Crain's]
·Construction of DePaul Arena Will Begin in January 2015 [Curbed Chicago]
·Just Released: The Updated McCormick Place Redevelopment Master Plan [Curbed]
·Previous McCormick Place coverage [Curbed Chicago]