Assembly Hall renovations to start next spring

CHAMPAIGN — A month after celebrating its 50th birthday, the University of Illinois pledged to give its beloved Assembly Hall a head-to-toe makeover.

In a press conference held at the Assembly Hall Thursday, Director of Athletics Mike Thomas unveiled many of the details of a $160 million renovation project that will begin in one year, will be done in three phases and has a targeted completion date of November, 2016.

A final approval from the university’s board of trustees in May will green-light the construction, even though Thomas said there is still work to be done in the fundraising stage.

That includes selling of naming rights, which is considered a major component of the project.

If all goes as planned, the renovation would conclude in time for the 2016-17 men’s and women’s basketball seasons, although Thomas said neither team would have their home seasons interrupted during the various construction phases.

“There will not be a point in time when our teams will be out of this building,” he said. “We will play uninterrupted.”

Thomas said construction will begin in March of 2014 and will continue until November of 2014, at which point major work will be suspended to allow for the 2014-15 basketball season.

Construction will resume in March of 2015 and continue until November of 2015, at which point there will be another interruption to accommodate the 2015-16 basketball season.

The final stage of construction would run from March through November of 2016.

“Along the way you will see things that look very different than it did before,” he said.

Thomas showed an architectural rendering that generalized the final look of the interior bowl of the Hall, which will have its capacity reduced to about 15,250 from its current level of 16,618.

The reduction is necessary to accommodate a number of “premium” seating opportunities including 12 top-end suites that will seat 14-18 guests and will rent from $65,000 to $75,000 per year, depending on the length of the lease (5-year, 10-year and 15-year).

Among the other amenities the project will include:

• Air conditioning, which will make the Hall a viable site for events during the four months each year when it’s currently too hot to use for concerts and other shows;

• Increased restrooms and concession areas including opportunities in expanded concourses on the Section C level;

• Wider concourses on the lower level that will allow for more comfortable traffic patterns;

• A new overhanging video scoreboard and “ribbon” scoreboards placed around the Hall;

• New team locker rooms and new dressing rooms for theater and musical acts. A new sports medicine area and expanded meeting areas that could allow the university to bid on events including early-round NCAA Tournament games, Thomas said;

• Increased floor-level student seating (from 700 to 1,200) and positioning that will make sure the Orange Krush student section faces TV camera locations;

• Chair-back seats will be orange or blue (no more gray);

• A “grand” main entrance on the west side of the building that will include a Hall of Fame area, retail shop and ticket office; A second entrance with a semi-circle drive will be created on the east side of the building;

• Lower seats will be retracted hydraulically and will increase the “footprint of the floor,” allowing for shows that have bypassed the Assembly Hall until now;

• A visitor transport system (escalators) will help fans reach Section C;

• Three “club” areas will be available for those who purchase a premium seating opportunity. A fourth club will be made available to the Orange Krush student section, and they can use it year-round for meetings and other events.

Thomas said 75 percent of the project will be funded by philanthropy (individual, corporate and foundation). A recently passed student fee will also be used in the funding model.

Thomas said brochures detailing the project and offering premium seating opportunities have been mailed to 8,000 season ticket holders and I-Fund donors. Those include fast-approaching purchase deadlines of April 19.

“In the meantime, we’ll be doing some open houses and will be available to answer questions,” Thomas said. “I encourage people to call our I-Fund staff and ticket office.”

He said premium seating opportunities make up 10 percent of the total seating capacity.

“We’ve tried to make sure there is something for everyone,” he said.

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©2013 the Herald & Review (Decatur, Ill.)

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