Re-Assembly Required

CHAMPAIGN - The proposed $160 million renovation project to the Assembly Hall could begin this time next year, Illinois athletics director Mike Thomas said Thursday.

CHAMPAIGN - The proposed $160 million renovation project at the Assembly Hall could begin this time next year, Illinois athletics director Mike Thomas said Thursday.

With fundraising already underway and schematics outlining the changes and construction in hand since November, all that stands in the way is approval by the university board of trustees. The 13-member board will meet May 29 and is expected to give the go-ahead.

"I look at the Assembly Hall as really a campus jewel," Thomas said. "It's really something special, and we're attempting to make it even more special."

While the Hall is a multi-use facility, hosting basketball games is it's primary function. Most of the upgrades were designed with that in mind. Seating for games will be north of 15,000, Thomas said, down from the 16,600-plus in the current seating arraignment. Listed are a few of the highlights in regards to seating:

- Students will receive 1,200 tickets, up from 700.
- 12 suites each with capacity for 18 people.
- 80 mini-suites seating four each.
- 1,000 club seats.
- 120 court side seats.

Concourses will be widened to provide for more and larger areas for concessions, restrooms and merchandise vendors.

"We're going to do a great job in our concourses of reflecting the history of our programs, not just basketball," Thomas said.

A second entrance, in addition to the traditional entryway on the west side, will be added to the eastern portion of the Hall, with an accompanying semi-circle drive that will mirror the one currently on the west side. The second entrance will house a Hall of Fame, ticket office and other office space, Thomas said. In total, every inch of the building will be renovated, Thomas said, with plans for an 8,000 square foot meeting hall, new scoreboards and videoboards and work done to the roof all on the long list of things to get done.

The renovations will also accommodate for the various other events the Hall plays host to, including concerts, wrestling matches and arts and crafts shows.

Air conditioning will be installed so events can be booked through the summer, creating a year-round calendar in place of the eight-month schedule currently in operation.

"You have to remember we will have other things in there," Thomas said. "This building was built to account for that. It's a multi-use facility, and I think that's one of the things that makes it special, not just for the campus but for the community."

Endeavors of this magnitude require time and money. Utility work inside the Hall could begin as early as this summer once approved, but the heavy lifting won't begin until March of 2014.

The basketball schedule will not be altered in any way due to the renovations. Neither the men's or women's team will play "home games" at other locations, according to Thomas. With a completion goal of November 2016, most of the construction will take place in three segments, March though November in 2014, '15 and '16. Construction will halt during basketball season and Thomas says seating will not be limited.

Funding will come from naming rights and donors. There are multiple options for naming rights, most notably the building itself, but donors will account for the bulk of the money raised. Brochures detailing the premium seat prices were mailed this week to around 8,000 people, season ticket holders and I-Fund donors.

With a deadline for premium seating purchases set for mid-April, Thomas said there will be open house meetings in the coming weeks for prospective donors. Thomas didn't go into specifics, about potential partners for naming rights or about funds received to this point, but did say ticket prices will not be raised any more than usual fluctuations.

"I really feel good about where we are today," he said. "I think we are making progress in a lot of areas. Are we where we eventually need to be? No, we still have a lot of work to do. But we've been in front of a lot of people private and corporate and, we'll get to where we need to go."

By the time it's completed, the Assembly Hall will look vastly different. Inside and out, many changes will be made. But the seats Thomas assured, will be orange and blue. And for a building that first opened in 1963, there will be plenty of tradition kept intact.

"I think everything that we should do, every facility should bleed orange and blue, and all of them should tell and reflect the great history of your program."

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