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A McCormick Place arena and surrounding lodging and attractions could solve some Public League problems.
Try to put aside fears about how it’s going to be funded and just enjoy the idea for a minute: a brand-new arena near McCormick Place that the Chicago Public Schools can call home.
‘‘If it comes to fruition, it would be a splendid thing,’’ Young boys basketball coach Tyrone Slaughter said. ‘‘A venue downtown, where there would be things to do before and after the game — it would just be great, a welcome addition to the landscape.’’
It’s a beautiful idea and some deeply necessary good news for city sports teams. The Public League has shifted its premier event, the boys basketball tournament, all over the city the last few years. Events have been held at the United Center, Chicago State, DePaul’s McGrath-Phillips, the UIC Pavilion, Attack Athletics and even in high school gyms. The scheduling is generally done at the last minute and parking is a major challenge at many of the venues.
‘‘I think it would be great,’’ Simeon coach Robert Smith said. ‘‘Centrally located, easy to get to, a brand-new facility. You don’t have to wonder if the game will be at DePaul this year or UIC or Chicago State. I think it’s great for the city of Chicago and the CPS. It’s something that is definitely needed.’’
Attendance at Public League basketball games has been dwindling. As enticing as watching Derrick Rose, Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor has been to many city and suburban basketball fans, the venues have been the major drawback. No one is sure exactly where or when the games are be played, how much it will cost to park, how much to get in. Not to mention, some fans don’t want to travel to the far South Side or the West Side.
That could all change with the McCormick Place arena. Most important for the coaches and players, it would be a simple walk or short cab ride from downtown hotels, making the trip easier for college coaches.
‘‘Unfortunately, with what is going on in Chicago right now, the old basketball junkies don’t want to be bothered with [attending the game] when they can just watch on TV, turn it off and go to bed,’’ Smith said. ‘‘They don’t want to deal with the possibility of a fight and a drive home and all that.’’
Smith said the venue is something he has spoken with Mayor Rahm Emanuel about.
‘‘Hopefully they can get some young people in there to work as well,’’ Smith said. ‘‘That’s something we talked about. I think it could be a positive for not just the athletes but for the general student population as well. Get some kids off the street and get them some experience.’’
Smith and Slaughter both said they would be interested in moving their current national shootout, the Chicago Elite Classic, to the new venue. Slaughter also had another idea.
‘‘It would be a good starting point to have a debate about moving the state tournament to Chicago,’’ he said. ‘‘It sounds like the venue would be just the right size and surrounded by hotels.’’
That would take even more cooperation from the city. It wouldn’t be easy to wrangle the tournament from Peoria. But for the first time, it’s possible Chicago could have a venue with all the proper pieces in place to give that a try.