Final approval for the renovation and renaming of the building formerly known as the University of Illinois Assembly Hall could come today in Chicago.
Final OK likely for renovation, renaming project
CHICAGO — Final approval for the renovation and renaming of the building formerly known as the University of Illinois Assembly Hall could come today in Chicago.
Meeting at the Chicago campus, UI trustees were set to act Wednesday on several items associated with the $165 million project, including design plans, a project budget and a new name for the iconic arena: the State Farm Center. The university last month announced a 30-year, $60 million naming-rights agreement with the Bloomington-based insurance company.
UI officials have been planning the renovation of the 50-year-old Assembly Hall for years. In 2011, trustees awarded a $2 million contract for conceptual design work with the architectural firm AECOM. Design details — such as the addition of air-conditioning, more student seats, premium seating, new lobbies and locker rooms — were unveiled earlier this year.
Trustees will be asked to increase AECOM's contract to $13.1 million to draw up construction documents, and to approve up to $9.5 million for Turner Construction Management to manage the project. The board's Audit, Budget, Finance and Facilities Committee reviewed the items earlier this month.
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 over 30 years. Including interest, the total cost could reach $250 million to $300 million.
The annual revenue to pay for that debt service will come from about $4.8 million of seat licensing, $2.1 million from student fees (students recently 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.
On Saturday, during a radio interview on WDWS, Athletic Director Mike Thomas said he didn't expect any major objections from trustees and expressed confidence about the financing and timeline for the project.
He said the State Farm agreement — which he called the largest naming-rights deal by a corporate entity for a college athletics venue — made the project "even more real to people" and has spurred interest from other donors. Other naming-rights opportunities include clubs, locker rooms, a Hall of Fame, ticket center and historic displays covering about 19 different UI sports (two-thirds have been claimed already).
"We technically still have two years to raise money, and we're at a pretty good pace right now," Thomas said.
The work will be completed in phases, between basketball seasons, with preliminary utility work beginning this summer and major construction starting next spring. The project is expected to be complete by the 2016-17 basketball season.
In other business:
— Coaching pay. The board will consider a one-year contract extension and a $200,000 raise for head basketball coach John Groce, which will bring his annual compensation to $1.6 million. The terms were announced last month.
— Search firms. Trustees will review a policy drawn up in response to legislation approved last year prohibiting public universities like the UI from hiring external search firms except when recruiting a president, or when the president or board of trustees demonstrates a need for using such a firm. Exceptions include senior positions that require strict confidentiality in the initial stages at a level campus staff can't provide; positions, such as athletic coaches, that require extensive recruiting and networking due to competitive markets and the need for a diverse candidate pool; and positions in a field not found traditionally within higher education, such as a specialized field of medicine.
Each campus will draft its own process for how units will request approval for hiring search firms, with oversight from the president's office. Maureen Parks, UI associate vice president and executive director of human resources, will track the use of such firms and report annually to the trustees.
The legislation, sponsored by then-Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, and Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, was prompted in part by a News-Gazette report that found the UI had spent almost $6 million over a nine-year period to recruit university presidents, chancellors, deans, directors and other positions.
— Chief debate. Two speakers are scheduled to address the board near the end of the meeting about Chief Illiniwek, the former UI symbol that was retired by the board in 2007 under pressure from the NCAA.
The Council of Chiefs, a group of former Chief portrayers, wants to bring back a modified, non-dancing version of the Chief to appear at Memorial Stadium twice a year. Chancellor Phyllis Wise has said the Chief is part of the school's past, not its future, and the campus Senate Executive Committee approved a resolution last week supporting her stance.
The two speakers are Rick Legue, a 1968 UI alumnus and Chief Illiniwek portrayer from 1966-68, who will discuss the Council of Chiefs' initiative; and Professor Joyce Tolliver, a member of the Senate Executive Committee.
— Gender surgery. Trustees will review new rates for the UI Chicago's self-funded student insurance plan, which will cover sex or gender reassignment surgery for the first time. Students proposed adding the benefit, which will cost about $4.50 more per semester; rates are going up a total of $60 per semester. The last rate increase was in 2008.