Thursday's meeting drew about 50 community members, and dozens of commenters. Credit: Joanna Hou/Block Club Chicago

LINCOLN PARK — Neighbors voiced their concerns about DePaul University’s plan to build a new basketball facility during a community meeting Thursday.

The meeting comes as DePaul looks to tear down four 1890s rowhouses and a courtyard building dating to 1925 on the 2300 block of North Sheffield Avenue for a new training center that officials say will give the university national recognition.

The Sheffield Neighborhood Association hosted the meeting at the Sullivan Athletic Center, 2323 N. Sheffield Ave., drawing about 50 community members. 

The current athletic center’s amenities are not enough to accommodate DePaul’s 215 student athletes, said DeWayne Peevy, DePaul’s vice president and director of athletics. Multiple staff members are crammed into offices, sports medicine resources are lacking and most student athletes don’t have lounging spaces or individual locker rooms, he said.

Recruits have turned DePaul down for these reasons, while other student athletes — and coaches — have transferred out, Peevy said. 

“Our current facilities are in disrepair and are not adequate to meet the baseline expectations and the level of care we need to provide our Big East level student athletes,” he said. “We’re not competitive, and this is largely why. It takes facilities to recruit top talent.” 

Historic Lincoln Park buildings in the 2300 block of North Sheffield Avenue face demolition as DePaul University plans to expand their athletic complex, as seen on Sept. 26, 2023, and the rendering of the new athletic building that would replace them. Photo 1 credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago. Photo 2 credit: Provided/Antunovich Associates, HTNB, DePaul University.

Peevy said his job is to create a “better front porch” — one that includes a strong athletics program — to attract more applicants to DePaul, which will bolster the university’s academic strength and national rankings.

The new facility would free up space for community events inside the Sullivan Athletic Center, which DePaul officials hope to renovate as well, Peevy said.

The two projects have a combined price tag of $60 million, which Peevy said will be entirely funded through private donations and corporate gifts.

The upper half of the proposed facility will feature large panels of bird-friendly glass, while the building’s lower half will be red brick to blend in with the street, said Joseph Antunovich of Chicago architecture firm Antunovich Associates, who presented renderings at the meeting.

Construction of the new facility could begin at the earliest in June 2025 with City Council approval, officials said.

Neighbors took to the microphone after the presentation to ask about the historical significance of the buildings that would demolished for the facility while questioning the value of the project to the broader DePaul community. Others who live close to the proposed facility expressed their disapproval of the proposed building’s design. 

One woman asked why DePaul could not build its new facility on the property it owns on West Fullerton Avenue between the CTA station and North Sheffield Avenue. The spot was previously a Whole Foods at 959 W. Fullerton Ave.

“No one would care if you tore that one down,” the woman said, drawing applause.

The buildings to be demolished for the new athletic facility add character and are beloved by the community, one woman said. 

Peter Coffey, associate vice president of community and government relations, said the university already has plans for former Whole Foods building, which is one of the few remaining ones of value. 

Historic Lincoln Park buildings in the 2300 block of North Sheffield Avenue face demolition as DePaul University plans to expand their athletic complex, as seen on Sept. 26, 2023. Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago

Two of the rowhouses to be torn down at 2310 and 2316 N. Sheffield Ave. are orange-rated in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey, meaning they have an architectural feature or historical association that contributes to the context of the surrounding community.

“If the architect was a wonderful architect, or if great historic activities took place within those buildings, they qualify, if those requirements are met, as a Chicago landmark,” Antunovich said. “To date we have not found that either of those criteria have been met.”

But even though the buildings may not fit landmark criteria, some neighbors said they play an important role in preserving the overall atmosphere of Lincoln Park.

Caroline Pavlecic, a Lincoln Park resident, said she’s concerned about the removal of student housing in the community if the courtyard building at 2300-2302 N. Sheffield Ave. is demolished. That building houses about 40 student apartments.

“Scarcity of housing drives up rents and makes it so even your own students can’t afford to live near campus,” Pavlecic said. “I’m a young professional, I have a good job, sometimes even I wonder how I can afford to live here.”

Rich Wiltse, vice president for facility operations, said there are spaces that are zoning-approved for student housing, but that construction does not need to start for some amount of time because DePaul has faced enrollment declines. There are currently dozens of vacancies on campus, he said. 

A rendering of new DePaul basketball courts in the facility. Credit: Provided/Antunovich Associates, HTNB, DePaul University

Another neighbor who owns a local business near the university asked about the ratio of student athletes to DePaul students, a question Coffey said was unfair because investing in athletics is about bettering the entire university.

“You are putting all this effort for 1 percent of your student base, and you’re ignoring the other 99 percent. Other students come here for other reasons, maybe like the charm of the neighborhood, and the campus, and wanting to live close,” the neighbor said. “You’re basically ignoring that 99 percent.” 

Sheffield Neighborhood Association President Brian Comer then tried to ask additional questions submitted online prior to the meeting, but Coffey refused to answer them, saying he would respond in writing later.

Ald. Timmy Knudsen (43rd) addressed community members at panelists at Thursday’s meeting. Credit: Joanna Hou/Block Club Chicago

The community meeting kicked off a public process DePaul needs to undergo as its 2010 planned development ordinance does not account for the property it has acquired since, including the property it hopes to build the new facility on. The university will need to amend the ordinance through the Chicago Plan Commission and the City Council, a process that involves gathering community input. 

Ald. Timmy Knudsen (43rd) attended the meeting and wrote down residents’ questions, which he said he will consider prior to any meetings with the Chicago Plan Commission or the city’s zoning committee.

His office has not made a recommendation on the project and will only do so after getting resident feedback and having more conversations with the community, he said. 

“All feedback received tonight will be taken into deliberation with the applicant in the coming days,” Knudsen said. “Any decisions regarding this amendment and proposal will be made taking tonight’s discussion into consideration.”

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