Hall's new name: State Farm Center

CHAMPAIGN — Known for decades by fans as the Assembly Hall, the University of Illinois' landmark arena has a new name: the State Farm Center.

Thanks to a $60 million donation, the flying saucer-shaped home to Illini basketball, Broadway shows and commencement exercises is undergoing the name change as part of a major renovation to the hall.

The university announced the 30-year, $60 million agreement with the Bloomington-based insurance company Monday. Officials also unveiled a logo for the building featuring the hall's iconic domed roof and the three circles used in State Farm's logo.

UI athletic director Mike Thomas called the announcement "one of the most significant highlights in the history of Fighting Illini athletics."

"In the world of college athletics, State Farm is a five-star recruit," said Thomas, who presented insurance executives with orange "Illinois. Our state. Our team." T-shirts at Monday's press conference.

He called State Farm an "outstanding partner" with the university for more than two decades, "and this agreement will carry that partnership forward for at least three more."

Some utility work on the site may begin this summer, but the bulk of the $160 million renovation is not expected to begin until March 2014, with completion in November 2016. The campus will start using the new name sooner rather than later.

"This is exactly what the campus had hoped for to achieve when this project was undertaken a couple of years ago," Chancellor Phyllis Wise said.

The intent, she said, was to build a place "like no other" where the community could assemble together while preserving the campus's architectural and academic heritage.

"It is our academic center. It is our athletic center. It's our cultural center. It's our community center, and now it's the State Farm Center," Wise said.

The $160 million renovation calls for adding air-conditioning, more student seating near the floor, private boxes, new restrooms, entrances and more.

Thomas said from the early stages of planning, naming rights would play a big part in how to pay for the renovation.

In a referendum earlier this spring, UI students approved a $25-per-semester student fee to help pay for the project. Ticket sales also will help.

But donations are expected to cover about 75 percent of the cost of the massive renovation, according to Rick Darnell, senior associate athletic director for development.

The UI officially kicked off its fundraising campaign earlier this spring, sending information and project details to donors and season ticket holders about suite and seating options and other naming right opportunities.

Thomas said his office is beginning to get "good returns" on those efforts.

"We've had no hiccups at this point in time. We feel really good about where we are. We are confident that we will move forward as planned," he said.

Officials did not say how much money they've raised so far, but Darnell acknowledged, "We're raising money every day."

"This is a huge philanthropic project," he said.

Plenty of other naming opportunities (in the six, seven and eight-figure range) for locker rooms, entrances, plazas and club rooms remain, he said.

"In college athletics, you're either moving on an upward trend or you're staying the same," said men's basketball coach John Groce, who attended Monday's announcement. "I tell our players, 'If you're staying the same, you're really getting worse because those people on the upward trend are passing you by. I think in this case, for us to get to where we want to go, to restore and renovate this iconic building for the multi-purposes that it's used for that this was a huge, huge move in the right direction," the coach said.

People have been talking about the renovation for some time now, Groce said, looking at pictures and architectural plans "and it creates excitement, it does."

"This is just another statement that State Farm has made with Illinois that 'Hey, we're moving this thing forward; this is a reality; we're getting closer; we're taking steps in the right direction; our plan is moving forward.' The momentum of the decision to partner with State Farm is going to create even more momentum for us with the project and that part's exciting," he said.

The State Farm Center is scheduled to be completed in time for the 2016-17 basketball season.

In the Big Ten, the State Farm Center joins a handful of others with a name tied to a corporation. In late-2011, the University of Nebraska announced that Pinnacle Bank purchased the naming rights to its arena at a cost of $11.25 million for 25 years. Ohio State's basketball teams play in Value City Arena at the Schottenstein Center.

"This is our first foray into this type of opportunity. It's not that we've said no forever; it's just that we've been real careful about how we use our name," said Randall Harbert, executive vice president at State Farm.

The company purchased the naming rights to an arena in Hidalgo, Texas — the State Farm Arena — but Harbert described that as a community center. The company also has donated to Illinois State University (for the State Farm Hall of Business) and Illinois Wesleyan University (for the instructional building State Farm Hall).

"We felt this was the right place and the right time. We really like the idea of being connected to a university not only in our home state but a university we've had a long-running partnership with," Harbert said.

State Farm has been a donor to the university for years in athletics and educational programs. Many of its employees are UI graduates and students have found internships at the State Farm Research and Development Center in the UI Research Park in Champaign.

News-Gazette staff writer Marcus Jackson contributed to this report.

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jgrout wrote on April 29, 2013 at 2:04 pm

If we say the jingle, will anything happen?

Ellen wrote on April 29, 2013 at 2:04 pm

It will always be "the Assembly Hall" to me 

EL YATIRI wrote on May 04, 2013 at 7:05 am
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same here

C in Champaign wrote on April 29, 2013 at 2:04 pm

2nd areana with a corporate donor? Doesn't tOSU play in the Value City Arena?

Nels Popp wrote on April 29, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Just wanted to point out that Illinois and Nebraska are not the only Big Ten venues with corporate naming rights deals. Ohio State basketball plays in Value City Arena and Maryland plays in Comcast Center. There are also corporate naming rights for football stadiums at Minnesota, Rutgers, and Maryland.

vcponsardin wrote on April 29, 2013 at 2:04 pm
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I always thought the place was a bit of a boondoggle--claiming it "belongs to the students" and so charging the students a "fee" for the privilege of "owning" the hall.  Now it appears State Farm owns the hall.  At least the U of I is now being a bit more truthful.

ROB McCOLLEY wrote on April 29, 2013 at 2:04 pm
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Value City Arena, Columbus ...

jthartke wrote on April 29, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Perhaps if such large corporations were appropriately taxed, they would be supporting our universities, not sponsoring them.  I think it's a sad day for this proud, public University.  What is next?  Changing the name of Memorial Stadium, named in honor of our veterans and fallen soldiers?

JimOATSfan wrote on April 29, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Yea I read on the 'net' a few years ago that most corps are now off-shore based and refuse to pay the $5 trillion owed the us in taxes until they get their tax rates lowered to 5%. A nasty bunch indeed.

gagablogger wrote on April 29, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Yes, I'm sure it's coming.

Lostinspace wrote on April 29, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Just lower my insurance rates, please.

mankind wrote on April 29, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Let's face it: It was inevitable. It irks me a little bit that they turned around and handed the naming rights to a company just a couple months after students agreed to cough up the same amount ($61.5 million give or take) through a fee increase, but it's hard to pass up that kind of money in this day and age. And we could do a lot worse than naming it after a major, longstanding, Illinois-based company that's pretty well respected. Imagine what it could have been. Value City Arena, anyone? 

gagablogger wrote on April 29, 2013 at 8:04 pm

Yes, we should all be grateful Dr. Scholl's Odor Eaters, Stayfree Maxi Pads or Vagisil weren't able to cough up more than $60 million. <severe eyeroll>

Himiko wrote on April 29, 2013 at 3:04 pm

I thought this headline was an April Fool's joke.

Then I realized we're at the wrong end of the month.

This is just pathetic.

Moonpie wrote on April 29, 2013 at 3:04 pm

You mean it's not going to be named The Oracle Tate Legend in His Own Mind Arena?


More selling out to coprorations. Will they need to remove more student and public seating to have additional hot dog roasting luxury suites for the State Farm suits?

gftst wrote on April 29, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Yet another example of how corporations run everything anymore. Any name change would be terrible but "State Farm Center" is a terrible choice...for me and I'm sure for a lot of people it will always remain Assembly Hall.

C mon man wrote on April 29, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Terrible name. With all of the so-called educated people on campus, one would think they could be a bit more creative. There are so many "centers" now I have lost track of where the edges are. It seems the university would be better served with some continuity such as, "The State Farm Assembly Hall". 

aaeismacgychel wrote on April 29, 2013 at 4:04 pm

I have no idea why they don't do this either. Call it the State Farm Assembly Hall. That makes a lot of sense. I honestly hate this garbage. Well, at least we aren't the Yum Center or the Micronpc.com Arena.

We should've tried targeting the UFC to see if they'd match to call Assembly Hall, "UFC'S House of Paign". I could've been okay with that.

By the way, if Thomas also decides to sell the naming rights to Memorial Stadium, he should be fired on the spot.

Lancelot wrote on April 29, 2013 at 3:04 pm

At least it's got a built in nickname - The Farm.

urbana-citizen-neighbor wrote on April 29, 2013 at 3:04 pm

It's sad to see more corporatization of public space and a disgrace that the University allowed it.

Why doesn't State Farm donate the money without requiring the name change? That would be more neighborly. I guess they'll have to change their tune, "And like a good neighbor State Farm is"—you fill in the blank. 

pattsi wrote on April 29, 2013 at 3:04 pm

It is too bad that there is little regard given to history in this community and in this instance the university. A building designed by a UIUC alum and referred to as the Assembly Hall for 50 years. One can not even find the history of the building on the Assembly Hall web site. I would think that this might given donors pause about contributing to the construction of a building that is destined to have said donor's name only until someone else comes along and over donates causing a name change.

787 wrote on April 29, 2013 at 4:04 pm

No.   Please not.  Please, please... not.

:^(

Bulldogmojo wrote on April 29, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Now if State farm would only move it's corporate headquarters here from Bloomington along with all those jobs this would be easier to stomach as we watch different segments of the campus turn into billboards.

Double dipping with student fees as well, you've been ripped off. I wonder what other promises Wise is making behind closed doors.

Maybe our new mascot will be a Zombie Sponsored by AMC's The Walking Dead.

dd1961 wrote on April 30, 2013 at 5:04 am

Well they are moving....just not here.  A 10 year plan has them completely leaving the state.

sameeker wrote on April 29, 2013 at 4:04 pm

I guess the big whigs at State Farm want a new playground in the form of a corporate skybox. Just remember, whenever you buy a product, you are paying for this. Whether you buy insurance, cars, software or anything else, a bigger and bigger portion of the price is going to waste such as this, and to huge corporate salaries for those at the top. Get rid of all the fat like this and prices could drop by half. Don't forget, when they now  fly their business assiciates in for a game in the sky box, the entire cost of the trip is deducted from their taxes, as is the cost of changing the name. Will the corporate decadance and oppulance ever stop?

OKOMIS wrote on April 29, 2013 at 4:04 pm

I don’t know of a bigger, more recognizable sponsor of college athletics.. it certainly could have been a lot worse…see 1-800-Ask Gary arena in Tampa… ( a slip and fall lawyer referral service)… even Value (AKA cheap) Center in Columbus ….. in a perfect world,I’d rather not have corporate sponsorship/naming rights…but I’m pretty sure it’s not a perfect world..if your gonna have a one, this is as classy/prestigious of one as you can get for NCAA basketball…

Bulldogmojo wrote on April 29, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Now if State farm would only move it's corporate headquarters here from Bloomington along with all those jobs this would be easier to stomach as we watch different segments of the campus turn into billboards.

Double dipping with student fees as well, you've been ripped off. I wonder what other promises Wise is making behind closed doors.

Maybe our new mascot will be a Zombie Sponsored by AMC's The Walking Dead.

jmb wrote on April 29, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Surprised to read so many negative posts regarding this smart move by our University administrators.  I can't think of a better partnership than with State Farm, one of the most recognizable corporate names in the world that is located right here in good old central Illinois. Guess this must be the same group that deep sixed our beloved chief because his name was offensive to a tribe of people who no longer exist. Wheres good old professor Kaufman when you really need him.  Perhaps you would prefer another State tax increase dumped on us from our highly respected politicians so you could retain the name of a building that likely is the same name used for 500 or so other buildings in the country. Yeah, I'll miss the dear old "Assembly Hall'? Boo Hoo, get a clue!   

Zim wrote on April 29, 2013 at 4:04 pm

State Farm is moving to another state to avoid the high taxes in Illinois. $60 million seems kind of cheap for a 30 year deal too.

Sid Saltfork wrote on April 29, 2013 at 5:04 pm

I was hoping that Domino's Pizza would get the naming rights.  State Farm will probably paint their name, or logo on the roof.  Allstate would have been not prestigous enough.  Maybe for a state university; but not for the Flagship.  At least, there is no state grant paying for the remodel.  Perhaps, a Viagra Stadium is in the future depending on how the team performs?

EL YATIRI wrote on May 04, 2013 at 7:05 am
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Good points.  It really isn't a gift, State Farm is getting something in return.  It's a deal not a gift.

vcponsardin wrote on April 29, 2013 at 5:04 pm
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A $60 million gift doesn't happen overnight.  Needless to say, this has been in the works for a very long time.  But it is most convenient to announce it right after the students voted to up the annual fee they pay to "support" their hall.  Any doubt the timing was deliberate?

wdlandsaw wrote on April 29, 2013 at 5:04 pm
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If that company wants me to advertise for them they need to cut me, personally, a check.  Until I see the money it's Assembly Hall.

JimOATSfan wrote on April 29, 2013 at 6:04 pm

First of all THANKS STATE FARM for supporting our university.  Very generous and much needed in today's economy.

Second why not start calling it 'SFC' as in playing tonight at 'The SFC'?  Shouldn't be long before someone at espn starts using the acronym.

Cheers!

Biz13 wrote on April 29, 2013 at 10:04 pm

Oh no!  The generic Assembly Hall will now be called the State Farm Center?  What will we do now?  Probably never win another home game again. Give me a break. Money coming in will only help the program move forward. I honestly do not see any problems with this. Some folks need to get a clue. 

uofiisu wrote on April 30, 2013 at 10:04 am

This is what I thought, too.  What relevance does the name Assembly Hall really have?  Our rival plays in an arena with the same damn name.  If Memorial Stadium was to get a name change then we could have reason to complain.  I liked the idea of what someone else said earlier, calling it the State Farm Assembly Hall but I could see why State Farm probably wouldn't like that because so many people would still just call it the Assembly Hall.  This is the best thing for the program and I'm glad it's finally done.

alabaster jones 71 wrote on April 29, 2013 at 10:04 pm
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Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there....to defraud Hurricane Katrina victims!

http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/court-state-farm-committed-fraud-katrina-case/story?id=18916319

Bulldogmojo wrote on April 29, 2013 at 11:04 pm

Remember back in the day when they said all they needed was the money to put in an extra loading dock and that would be the answer to all the Assembly hall woes as it would allow arena acts to play all the time filling the place to the rafters? Remember? The last sold out show I saw there was U2's Joshua tree.

Then they keep raising the ticket and concession prices on people like frogs in a pot of water they slowly turn the heat up on.

Then they charge student fees.

Now they sold out to State Farm. I guess their criminal benefactors at Bank of America had them on hold too long.

eastsideexp wrote on April 30, 2013 at 12:04 am

Understand this from the University's perspective and State Farm's business model.

Glad to know that none of my insurance premiums will pay for this - was a customer of State Farm for almost two decades, got yanked around big-time by SF when filing my first ever claim for clear cut storm damage to our home, and have spent my insurance premium with another company for the last 15 years.

 

 

gbw wrote on April 30, 2013 at 10:04 am

Thank you State Farm Insurance for supporting the Fighting Illini.  It is also great that the corporate naming rights are with an Illinois based company!  Take that Govenor Perry!  Alot of negative comments on the board here but times change and until this State can put more of its pension and funding problems behind us I say it's great. 

As a Chicago alum I'm all for the modernization of the court and seating area for continued success of our basketball program.  I'm looking forward to the 2016 completion.  By the way, Wrigley Field, US Cellular and United Center are other names that just might ring a bell with us in Illinois.  

 

 

DaisyJ wrote on April 30, 2013 at 10:04 am

Bout as stupid as it gets. This is the Assembly Hall. What about naming after the coach that won the most games there..Henson Hall

JohnUI82 wrote on April 30, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Does Lou have $60 million to spare?

DaisyJ wrote on April 30, 2013 at 10:04 am

So, with all this money savings I guess the old fan will see a 50% reduction in seat costs next year.

I heard that Memrial Stadium will  soon be named Obama Stadium in honor of all the kids that cannot get a job when they graduate

sameeker wrote on April 30, 2013 at 2:04 pm

That would be Raygun Bush stadium that you are thinking of. The bathrooms in the corporate boxes will be built over the cheap seats so that the poor woking stiffs can experience that "trickle down" that you love so well.

Danno wrote on April 30, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Many thoughts/feelings for all to express on this issue; personally, I'm 'yes' on this. State farm has hired many UofI grads over the decades, with many other involvements here as well. At least they're nearby, just down the road.


Though, Mutual of Omaha might have been a better sponsor; their corporate logo is a 'Chief.' Kill two with one. All happy.

STM wrote on April 30, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Simply stupid.

yates wrote on April 30, 2013 at 3:04 pm

Just take the State Farm money and be happy. I gladly will but I will still call it Assembly Hall and I bet i'm not alone on that.

Marti Wilkinson wrote on April 30, 2013 at 5:04 pm

This reflects a trend where public universities have to increasingly seek funding outside of the state in order to function. This is also why people who are successful at fundraising and grant writing are desirable job candidates within the university system. What is happening with the Assembly Hall is a reflection on higher education in the public sector. When I returned to grad school in my late 30's this was one thing that I heard discussed quite often.

Until we take back the educational system from our wonderful politicians and their corporate sponsors, this trend will most likely continue. The only reason why people are paying attention now is because it concerns a venue that provides sports and entertainment.

wdlandsaw wrote on April 30, 2013 at 6:04 pm
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I don't consider this a done deal yet, there is a lot of review that needs to take place, and the students have to approve the name change to their Assembly Hall.

Sid Saltfork wrote on May 01, 2013 at 10:05 am

The cost is being financed by State Farm, and student fees primarily.  I doubt that the students care about the name.  If Bill Gates had financed the remodel of Lincoln Hall instead of the state funding it; I would have been happy with Gates Hall.  Hogan Hall, White Hall, Troyer Hall?  Who cares as long as the state is not funding it.

drewbert41 wrote on May 02, 2013 at 9:05 am

I am fine with the name.

However, I am not a fan of their terrible efforts at scheduling good concerts.

Every year its a given that they will play it safe and do a few lame country acts.

The rest is just washed up acts (Dylan) and musicals.

They always seem to do 1 rap concert to please that crowd.

I mean I know it is not that great of a place to see a show but c'mon! Bring back people that rock!

Last show I went to at the Hall was Nine Inch Nails. Before that was Red Hot Chili Peppers. And before that was Pearl Jam.

The only "rock" shows they do these days are Daughtry, Christian rock, etc.

Makes me want to puke!

Peoria attracts way way better acts and it is a shame.

I'm not saying everyone has to like the same music as me but, if they want to sell out shows then they need to be a little less "safe" in their selections.