Assembly Hall renovation, renaming now head to trustees

CHAMPAIGN — The $165 million renovation of the Assembly Hall is one step closer to becoming a reality.

A committee of University of Illinois trustees on Monday reviewed the administration's recommendation to approve design plans, the project budget and renaming of the iconic arena to the State Farm Center. Approval now goes before the full UI Board of Trustees at its next meeting on Wednesday, May 29, in Chicago.

Design details — such as the addition of air conditioning, more student seats, new lobbies and locker rooms — were unveiled earlier this year. The renovation also calls for updated entrances on the east and west sides, with a semicircle drive added on the east. The interior will feature a new box office, retail space, club space for the Orange Krush student group, additional bathrooms, concession areas and more.

University officials have been planning for years for an extensive renovation of the 50-year-old building. In 2011, trustees awarded a contract for conceptual design work with AECOM and since then the architectural firm has been drawing up plans. Officials then brought in Turner Construction Management to manage cost estimates and help with scheduling.

Fundraisers with the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics kicked off their campaign earlier this spring, sending out information about premium seating options, from suites to club seats to loges, which are like mini-suites. Late last month, the campus announced its 30-year, $60 million deal with State Farm Insurance for naming rights to the building.

"Getting State Farm to buy into it was a critical part of this process," said UI Trustee Ed McMillan, who chairs the Audit, Budget, Finance and Facilities Committee, which reviewed design plans.

UI Trustee Pam Strobel, who attended the committee meeting, said she would recuse herself from discussions or votes on the project because she is a member of State Farm's board of directors. Strobel, a former executive vice president and chief administrative officer at Exelon Corp., was appointed to the UI board by Gov. Pat Quinn in 2009. Strobel said she was not involved "in any way" in the renaming of the Assembly Hall to the State Farm Center.

On Monday, trustees reviewed recommendations to increase AECOM's contract to $13.1 million to reflect their move from designing schematics to drawing up construction documents, according to Mike Bass, senior associate vice president of business and finance at the university. The UI previously approved an approximately $2 million contract for conceptual and design work. Bass is also asking trustees to approve up to $9.5 million for Turner's contract to manage the project.

The renovation is being funded mostly by donations, but also from student fees and ticket surcharges.

The university will finance the $165 million project with the sale of bonds, most likely 30-year bonds, according to Bass. Including interest on those bonds, the cost could be between $250 million to $300 million. Bass has not nailed down an exact figure for the university's annual debt service payment, but estimated it at around $9 million to $10 million.

The annual revenues to pay for that debt service will come from about $4.8 million of seat licensing, $2.1 million from student fees (this spring students approved a $50 annual fee to help pay for the project), $2 million from State Farm for the naming rights, $700,000 in ticket surcharges and $500,000 in Big Ten Network revenue.

Sales of club seats, Bass said, are going fast. Of approximately 851 club seats, 807 have been accounted for by people signing letters of commitments. Of the 11 suites, five have been sold so far. As for the 336 loges, 54 have been sold.

"We've got two years to move forward. We're hoping to see and expect to see a positive interest uptick with the State Farm announcement," Bass said.

The committee also forwarded the recommendation to formally change the name of the Assembly Hall to the State Farm Center.

Some preliminary work can begin this summer with major work kicking off next spring and the project complete by the 2016-17 basketball season.

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