United Center plans retail, restaurants
Parking lot just east of stadium could be replaced with entertainment complex
05/02/2012 10:00 PM
The United Center has long been an island in the middle of the Near West Side, blocked off from its neighbors by a vast sea of parking lots.
But a new proposal from the arena’s owners leaked this week floats the idea of replacing one of those lots with a new retail, dining and event complex that would activate the stadium’s outskirts with something besides gasoline.
Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz are testing the waters on the project, which would turn the lot immediately east of the arena, south of Madison Street and west of Wood Street, into a 262,522 square-foot expansion, according to a document from the Metropolitan Planning Council and a spokesman for the two men.
The United Center team asked the Metropolitan Planning Council in 2010 to take a look at what economic impact the project might be on the neighborhood, and the resulting document lays out the specifics.
The project could have four restaurants totaling roughly 28,000 square feet, four bars at a total of 14,000 square feet, a 12,000 square-foot team store and a 29,000 square-foot event space.
According to Guy Chipparoni, a spokesman for Reinsdorf and Wirtz, the project would be built without public money on the lot, which they already own.
If built, the proposal would add a huge number of businesses to the area surrounding the United Center, which right now is dominated by parking lots. Demand for nearby dining options has long been demonstrated, though, by the long lines and packed bar on game days at the Billy Goat’s outpost a few blocks away at Ashland, Ogden and Madison. In recent years, West Loop bars and restaurants further east on Madison like Crossroads and Third Rail have made their name providing free shuttle buses to the arena for events.
But few, if any, businesses capitalizing on the traffic have sprouted up west of Ashland. The Metropolitan Planning Council was brought on to study the economic impact of the project in 2010, having worked on community development in the former Henry Horner Homes area.
Over and over again during meetings about how best to revitalize the area, the United Center came up, according to the Metropolitan Planning Council’s Community Development Director Joanna Trotter.
“The United Center was developed at a time when sports venues were planned very differently than they [are] today,” Trotter said. “I think that the United Center recognizes there’s even more opportunity and they need to start somewhere.”
Their study for the United Center showed that the project would have a major impact on the area. According to the report, the development would create 794 new jobs — 289 in construction, and 505 long-term service industry jobs. In the project’s first 16 months, it would create almost $35 million in earnings from job creation, and almost $11 million per year annually after that.
It would also bring in almost $2.7 million in tax revenue for the first 16 months, and almost $2 million annually afterwards.
Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd), whose ward includes the arena, said he hadn’t been briefed on the project by the United Center but it’s something he’s been pushing for a long time.
“It’s something we’ve been advocating for four years, to start moving some of these parking lots into retail areas,” he said. “I’m very pleased. It’s one more push all the way straight down Madison to develop it.”
Chipparoni said that the project has been floating around since 2010, and while the owners are interested in the project, nothing is pending right now.
“These are ideas and concepts that ownership has been discussing for a while,” he said. “There are a lot of thoughts on the table, and a lot of interest as to what it would mean to the United Center complex and of course, the city of Chicago. Nothing is imminent, nor is anything out of the question. United Center ownership looks forward to discussing all of this in better detail in the proper setting at the proper time.”