Low Profile

Low Profile

Courtesy Pelli Clarke Pelli

Under scrutiny from its future South Loop neighbors, a new arena and event space has emerged from a conceptual design competition with a low profile, literally. In late September, officials approved a design by Pelli Clarke Pelli (PCP) for the new arena sited near Chicago’s McCormick Place Convention Center, which will host DePaul University’s Blue Demons. City Council will still vote on the design, which could change based on neighbors’ concerns.

PCP’s design tucks 10,000 seats into a sunken bowl with a court one level below grade and a roof that wafts up toward the middle. The arena’s event floor is on grade, leaving space for functional programming underground—mechanical rooms, locker rooms, operations, maintenance, storage. As opposed to many arenas, where visitors are greeted with the back-of-house spaces and have to ascend for event-level amenities, the new facility has a street-level presence.


“The main concourse is actually at street level,” said PCP’s Mitchell Hirsch, who also led design on DePaul’s new theater school building, “thereby allowing complete energy and activity around the entire bowl.” The building’s roof arches gently upward, supported by a series of laterally braced arched trusses. “We began to look at the iconic nature of the building relative the city,” said Hirsch. “This was one way to recall wonderful Chicago spaces.”

The glass-walled arena located at East Cermak Road and Indiana Avenue will be called the McCormick Place Event Center. It is low-slung and light-filled—apparently an attempt to address concerns that the arena might “crash land” in the dense South Loop neighborhood. Hirsch said the building’s street frontage will only be about 45 feet above street level, or roughly even with the trees on Cermak’s median. The billowy roof’s edges flatten out to continue the planar gestures of McCormick Place West toward downtown.


DePaul University will be the building’s main tenant, but McPier, the semi-public entity that runs Navy Pier and McCormick Place, will own the building. The $173 million arena will also host concerts and events from DePaul and elsewhere. About $70 million will come from the university. The city is expected to kick in $33.5 million for land acquisition, and $21.5 million will come in the form of tax increment financing for a Gensler-designed1,200-room Marriot Hotel that is planned for the southwest corner of Cermak and Indiana.

“The concern of the community was a black-box arena,” Jon Clay, McPier’s director of design and construction, told the Tribune. “We’ve really got a well-lit glass jewel box of a building.”

Another hotel, this one with 500 rooms, will anchor the arena’s northeast corner on Prairie Avenue. McPier still needs to acquire some of that land. The development is near to a new CTA Green Line stop designed by Ross Barney Architects, which is slated to open in late 2014.

Five other architects competed for the project: John Ronan, Krueck + Sexton, Ross Barney, Grimshaw, and OMA.

Officials hope to complete the project in Fall 2016.