Rocky Wirtz knows the allure of public money was too much to pass up for DePaul in its search for a new basketball arena, but the Chicago Blackhawks owner believes the United Center would have been a good home for the Blue Demons.
In November, DePaul was offered 10 years rent-free to play at the United Center, which is owned by Wirtz's Blackhawks and the Chicago Bulls. The school rejected that offer in March and on May 16 Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel announced plans for a $173 million, 10,000-seat arena across the street from McCormick Place. DePaul will pay rent at the building but will retain naming rights and permanent internal and external signage space.
"It's hard to go against public financing," Wirtz said Friday on "The Carmen & Jurko Show" on ESPN Chicago 1000. "We did it the old-fashioned way, Jerry Reinsdorf and our family, we used our own dough. What we were trying to do with DePaul, we thought it was a very fair deal. I don't know how you can get a better deal than free. We were certainly going to help them market their sport. We thought it would be great for recruiting on the West Side.
"We've spent over $2 million in wi-fi in the buiding and those are things you will not get in a publicly financed building. A building is generally never as good as the moment it's opened so over 10 years you're not going to put money back into it because that's not part of their budget. But with all due respect to DePaul, they knew what they wanted to do. They thought it was better for them to be in a building that they could have more events, more time even though they are going to be spending more in rent."
DePaul, which has been playing at Allstate Arena since 1980, will contribute $70 million toward the arena, scheduled to open in time for the 2016-17 season.
Wirtz said scheduling conflicts with the Bulls and Blackhawks were a concern for DePaul, but efforts were made to address them.
"The great thing about the United Center is it's a sports building that also can do concerts so it's a loud building," Wirtz said. "We can bring that building down to 7,500 seats, you can cover the seats, and still make it very loud. "