Sentiment aside, UI's deal solid

The Assembly Hall's name change will take some getting used to, but the university is fortunate to have State Farm as a partner in the renovation of the venerable icon.

Naming rights related to the planned renovation of the University of Illinois' Assembly Hall have been the subject of speculation for months.

But the buzz came to a halt Monday when athletic director Mike Thomas announced that the UI had reached a 30-year, $60 million deal with Bloomington-based State Farm Insurance and that, henceforth, the iconic, saucer-shaped architectural landmark would be known as the State Farm Center.

Many will be sorry to see the Assembly ... er ... State Farm Center fall prey to the commercial demands of the times. On the other hand, a corporation paying $60 million is entitled to something for its money. You give some, you get some.

So the State Farm Center it will be as the UI marches forward with a breathtakingly ambitious and expensive renovation plan. The base cost for all the work is estimated to be $170 million (aren't overruns in projects of this nature inevitable?). With 30 years of interest costs, the ultimate price tag stands at an estimated $270 million.

Planned improvements include air conditioning, increased student seating, private boxes, new restrooms and new entrances. It may still look the same on the outside, but it'll be brand new on the inside.

The State Farm Center is just the latest existing or new public facility to sell naming rights. The White Sox play at U.S. Cellular Field, the Bulls play at the United Center, and the list goes on.

Some people may not like it. After all, many of these public arenas are named for great people or great events (the UI's Memorial Stadium, to name just one). The UI settled on the Assembly Hall a half-century ago for lack of a name, but the nostalgia some of these names evoke is quite understandable, particularly when contrasted with the harsh financial realities of today.

Nonetheless, the cold hard fact is this — the UI is embarking on a major construction project that must be financed in a prudent manner. With 75 percent of the cost to be financed with donations of one form or another, it's a nonstarter to think that selling naming rights — whether for the building, locker rooms, club rooms, etc. — would not be required.

The UI's good fortune is that State Farm is ready, willing and able to continue to expand on its past support in this manner. A formidable corporate entity, it's a huge employer, a generous supporter of efforts like this and an impressive partner as the UI rebuilds a magnificent structure for the decades ahead. We welcome them.

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