In an effort to quell public discontent over the prospect of a boxy, windowless arena popping up in Chicago's McCormick Place neighborhood, the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority has opened its search for architects to include those without sports facility design experience - the thought being that sports architects can join the process later.

"This way, some well-known or up-and-coming designer with no arena experience can apply," Authority CEO Jim Reilly told Chicago public radio station WBEZ. "And in Phase 2 they can team up with someone who does know that. That's our hope."

The $195 million arena will seat 10,000 and serve as home to DePaul University basketball. It will be bordered on all four sides by city streets, and its design must incorporate adjacent hotel development.

Detractors remain skeptical, despite the widened search. "It's a tall order to come up with a design that can accommodate everything they want to accommodate," Tina Feldstein, president of the Prairie District Neighborhood Alliance, told WBEZ. "It's a bad deal, period. No matter which way you slice it or dice it."

Such concerns have not fallen on deaf ears. "While I don't agree with the neighbors who just don't want [us] to build, I do agree with them that the typical arena has blank walls," Reilly said. "We don't want a blank wall."

The Authority will choose three to five finalists among architects who submit qualifications and experience, awarding each a $50,000 stipend to submit detailed design concepts. A winner is expected to emerge by late August. A similar approach was used for the renovation of Chicago's Navy Pier, drawing submittals from world-class architects James Corner Field Operations (which won the bid), Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid and Chicago's SOM.

Paul Steinbach is Senior Editor of Athletic Business.