U of I Plans Assembly Hall Work Starting in 2014
By Rob McColley
In a Thursday afternoon press conference, University of Illinois Director of Athletics Mike Thomas spelled out plans for renovating Champaign's Assembly Hall, which will allow for year-round sports and entertainment programming.
“Whether they’re coming for a basketball game, Star Theater, a rock concert, a craft show, you name it, they’ll be offered many amenities,” said Thomas. “But also the fact that we’re going to have air conditioning in this new facility, that we’ll be able to program it, really, for another four months out of the year.”
Thomas said major work will begin one year from now, in March of 2014, and conclude in November of 2016 -- with yearly stoppages to accommodate basketball season.
Athletics Director of Development Rick Darnell said 75 percent of the $160 million project would come from private and corporate philanthropy. Darnell said the current fundraising strategy will give seating priority to contributors -- meaning longtime basketball season-ticket holders may be moved farther away from the playing floor, if they do not donate money to the project.
Assembly Hall Director Kevin Ullestad said expansion of the hall's floor will accommodate larger conventions, and entertainment programs that wouldn't fit the existing floor.
The renovation plan wins plenty of praise from men’s basketball coach John Groce, who called it a “program-changing event” that will help in recruiting.
“Facilities are important,” said Groce. “It’s something in recruiting when kids come to campus. They want to see where they’re eating, where they’re training, where they’re playing and where they’re living. And obviously the building’s a big part of their experience, and something we’re looking forward to showcasing."
Initial plans call for private suites, and a second circular drive to accommodate patrons arriving from the east side of the building. Capacity will drop by about 1,500 seats, to roughly 15,200. But Groce says the new seating pattern creates a more intimate experience for fans, with increased student seating as well.