RIVER NORTH — DePaul University's president on Monday called the issue of using city funds to help build a new sports arena for the school "a fair question" but said it's a matter that should be directed to Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
The Rev. Dennis Holtschneider made his comments on the new arena, responding to audience queries, following an appearance at a City Club of Chicago luncheon.
"That's a fair question how the city should use its money for public purposes," said Holtschneider. "I'll let the city speak to that question because that was their call."
Holtschneider said the university will be footing $70 million for the 10,000-seat arena, with the school's share coming exclusively from donations and ticket sales.
"There will be zero dollars in DePaul's budget for this and that's how we've gone about funding it, but the city had to make a call whether this was a project that would benefit the city in the long run and I think that's theirs to argue," Holtschneider said.
Holtschnedier remarks came as protesters chanted outside against the use of taxpayer funds.
Holtschneider said the school will only be using the arena for 30 days out of the year, while the majority of the time the space will be by used by conventions.
He said arena plans could not have happened without the three-way agreement between DePaul, the city and the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority.
"I can assure you that there's no way that when people accuse DePaul of having somehow received benefits financially that's the case," Holtschneider said. "I think if anything DePaul has been generous to Chicago."
Protesters outside the River North Maggiano's where the luncheon was taking place could be heard chanting from inside during the talk.
Jeanette Taylor, whose two children attend Mollison Elementary in Grand Boulevard, called on Holtschneider to refuse the estimated $55 million city TIF funds that will be used for the project.
Mollison was a "receiving school" of students from Overton Elementary, which was shut down during the school closings last year.
"They are cutting resources at the schools. We have to change the lunchroom into a classroom because we had an influx of kindergartners who came from the closed school," Taylor said.
Taylor, and many other CPS parents at the protest, repeatedly chanted, "What would Saint Vincent do?" during the talk.
"We should be able to at least count on Father Dennis to do the right thing even if the mayor won't," said Brandon Johnson, a Chicago Teachers Union representative at the protest. "Father Dennis, you owe it to Chicago to refuse those dollars and allow those dollars to be spent in our neighborhoods."
Holtschneider spoke of the city's "ambitious" long-term plans for the arena and said the idea is to bring conventioneers to the city along with their dollars.
Those tax dollars would then be able to "fund things the city cares about," Holtschneider said.
"None of us would do this if we were on our own," he said. But putting resources together in three ways then "suddenly something becomes possible for all of us," he said.