As action slows in C-U, nearby arenas hope to benefit
Get ready for a concert drought.
After comedian Jeff Dunham performs Friday night, renovations at State Farm Center will preclude music or comedy acts for more than two years.
Men's and women's basketball will continue during the work, scheduled to be finished in November 2016. But the void left by the curtain closing will be noticeable; in 2013, there were 24 concerts, comedy acts or theatrical presentations at State Farm Center.
State Farm Center director Kevin Ullestad said earthwork at the center is ongoing, and staff will be expected to vacate the building in a week.
"They want us to get as many offices as possible cleaned out after that (Michigan) game on Tuesday," he said.
Have a memory of a concert? Ice Capades? The circus? Eddie Johnson? Share it here.
Some information technology and operations workers will move to Memorial Stadium; box office workers will go to the Shoppes of Knollwood and administration heads to Huntington Towers.
"But we're all excited about the new facility," Ullestad said.
The Champaign center will undergo renovations that include air-conditioning, for the first time since the concrete saucer was completed in 1963.
As work gets going, State Farm Center continues to look at future concerts.
Ullestad, who also does the booking at State Farm Center, said "we've got our fingers crossed" making a full-press effort on the hopes that the center could get superstar Garth Brooks near the tail end of his current tour.
Brooks told CBS' "The Talk" that he expected to be on the road for three years.
Brooks has played four shows at the center for gross receipts of $1,148,769.
Meanwhile, what's an inconvenience for Champaign-Urbana audiences could be a small boon for Bloomington-Normal.
U.S. Cellular Coliseum, completed in 2006, is the nearest large concert venue to Champaign at 54 miles away. At 8,000 seats for concerts, it's about half the size of the State Farm Center.
General manager Bart Rogers said his arena could get more business.
"I'm sure a lost place for shows to stop will mean more traffic in the concert and touring world for venues that are close to it such as U.S. Cellular Coliseum, Prairie Capital Convention Center and Peoria Civic Center," he said. "As long as groups are touring, they will be looking for homes."
He said there's tight competition among venues in Peoria, Bloomington, Springfield and Champaign.
"We're all vying for that one big play. But I don't have a crystal ball in my office about who we'll get," Rogers said.
At the Virginia Theater in downtown Champaign, director Steven Bentz said he is working with Ullestad on cooperative efforts.
"We are working together to co-present Phantogram here April 9," he said.
Also, last fall the park district and State Farm Center co-presented "Men are from Mars, Women Are From Venus."
In another time, the end of Illinois basketball season meant the start of concert season at the building formerly known as the Assembly Hall. Ten month-of-March headliners through the years in C-U:
1982: The Police
1987: Huey Lewis
1989: Bon Jovi
1997: Garth Brooks
1999: Motley Crue
2002: Kenny Chesney
2006: George Strait
2007: Red Hot Chili Peppers