Big plans for Assembly Hall

Big plans for Assembly Hall

Plans for replacement or renovation of the Assembly Hall have been discussed for years. Now they're on the verge of becoming a reality.

The longest journey begins with but one step, but that was a heck of a step University of Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas took last week when he released details of the proposed $160 million renovation of the Assembly Hall.

Tentatively scheduled to be completed over part of a three-year period — March to November of 2014, 2015 and 2016 to avoid conflicts with the UI's home basketball schedule — the size, scope and cost of the project are mammoth.

Taxpayers can take solace with the news that donors are expected to account for roughly 75 percent of the cost while a recently approved student fee increase will pay an additional 17 percent. The balance will come from revenue generated — higher ticket prices? — by Assembly Hall operations.

The fundraising effort is an immensely complicated business, and it includes everything from selling naming rights to premium seating options. An athletic department spokesman said a reshuffling of seating is inevitable, so get ready for lots of complaints when longtime fans find they'll be moving to a new location.

It's important to remember that the UI's Board of Trustees has yet to sign off on the project, and trustees won't do so until all the financial details have been finalized. At the same time, Thomas expressed great confidence that all the necessary work will get done, and it's unlikely he would have held the news conference if he didn't believe that to be true.

Plans call for a complete renovation of the facility, the space-saucer shape remaining the same but little else.

On the outside, the Assembly Hall's glass walls will be pushed out to allow wider concourses as well as additional concession stands and bathrooms. A new entrance on the east, complete with a semicircle drive, will complement the entrance on the west side.

The facility will be air-conditioned, allowing for use 12 months of the year.

On the inside, the construction will result in a decrease in the building's capacity by 1,500 seats to roughly 15,200. Student seating will be located closer to the court, helping to create the kind of snake-pit atmosphere that gives opposing players the willies. The Assembly Hall also will be retrofitted to ensure that it is compliant with requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

All told, it's quite a load — a grand ambition that we expect to become a reality. But it's a long way from here to there, and, as Thomas stated, there's much work left to do.

But this project is hardly different than the recent renovation of Memorial Stadium, Lincoln Hall or any of the other myriad construction projects on campus over the years.

If there's a will, there always seems to be a way.

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