After months of community meetings, worrying about their property values and even watching houses move from one lot to another, Prairie District residents in the South Loop are coming to accept – sometimes grudgingly – the expansion of McCormick Place and construction of a new DePaul arena.
“I realize that it’s an opportune time to build on this land, but why couldn’t we have done more commercial real estate,” said Chess Lofts resident, Jamie Burton. “I think a stadium is a little odd.”
Plans for the arena were originally announced in May of 2013 with a $140 million budget, but many residents of the South Loop opposed the idea because they felt it was a waste of taxpayer money. Nevertheless, the demolition of abandoned buildings to make way for construction began in late 2014.
Officials at the Metropolitan Pier and Expansion Authority, known as McPier, the government-created municipal corporation that owns McCormick Place, initially planned to break ground in early 2015 but issues with the awarding of the construction contract, which has grown to $164 million, has pushed those plans back to the second quarter of 2015.
“We’re building what we like to call an events center,” said Mary Kay Marquisos, director of communications at McPier. “We think it’s going to be a catalyst to the area. It’ll prompt other people to build businesses and get things going on Motor Row.”
Burton, a resident of the South Loop for 2½ years, said she’s looking forward to what the new developments will bring to the area and she is willing to stick it out through the construction.
“It was starting to get stale,” Burton said. “Nothing was moving.”
The site for the arena is just one block south of the Prairie District boundary, which is home to many historical landmarks such as the Clark House and Wheeler Mansion.
Deb Seger, who owns Wheeler Mansion, said that recently she’s noticed a shift in the bottom step of the outside staircase and thinks it may have been caused by the demolition projects occurring near her property.
“I’m not going to be a problem person,” Seger said, “Development in the area is a positive rather than a negative, but boy it’s been a lot.”
Tina Feldstein, a real estate consultant and president of the Prairie District Neighborhood Association, said the demolition process went smoothly, however it did create parking issues for the residents of Chess Loft.
Once the stadium is in place, the ultimate goal is to turn the area into permit parking, which will create more parking for residents. Burton, however, expressed concern this would cause an inconvenience for friends and visitors of residents because there would be no free parking nearby.
“We’re hopeful that the permit will get rid of the people from outside the neighborhood who are utilizing residential parking,” Feldstein said.
Not only are residents concerned with access to parking during events at the new complex, but they are also worried about the increase in unruly crowds the development may bring.
“If there’s going be concerts there will be traffic issues and drunken people marauding through the neighborhood like we see every Bear’s game,” said John Jacoby, a long time resident of the South Loop.
Jacoby did say that Jim Riley, the CEO of McCormick Place, and his team have been responsive the community’s concerns.
The development will also bring a new neighborhood park to the Prairie District, which Feldstein said will be located on the northeast corner of Prairie and 21st. That intersection was formerly the site of the historic Rees House, which was built in 1888 at Prarie and 21st. The Rees house was relocated to 2017 S Prairie. The move cost $6 million.
“Well, we get an arena, but we also get a park,” Feldstein said. “The park is going to be a great transition.”
Burton said that while she would take advantage of the park, it’s not enough of a trade off for the stadium and may cause some longtime residents to move from the area.
No blueprints of the park have been released and Marquisos had no comment on any future plans.
Although there are still many issues to be debated, residents of the South Loop have accepted that unless something major happens, this stadium will be built steps away from their homes and will draw new crowds and businesses to the area.
“Sure, it is a huge asset to the community, to the area, to the South Loop as a whole, but the inconvenience it’ll cause is going to be huge,” Burton said.
Note: a correction regarding the location of the Rees house and the new park was made to this story.