Tate: Survey says ...
Here's an idea. How about the Illini scheduling stronger basketball opponents at home ... and carrying that into Big Ten success!
Meaningful victories on the court would add punch to Mike Thomas' quest to renovate the half-century-old Assembly Hall.
After all these years, it is actually on the move. Thomas is out front with assurances that this massive remodeling can be pulled off even as he bucks a shaky economy and a recent slump in UI basketball fortunes.
Thomas expects long-awaited architectural renderings and design concepts from the Kansas City, Mo., firm of AECOM by early September. That will allow him to give prospective premium seat holders a visual drawing of what they're buying. Strong assurances of donor support would get this renovation steaming ahead and perhaps completed within three to four years.
A letter survey has already been mailed out to 7,000 customers to determine the interest of stalwart fans and contributors, explaining that the "unique and exclusive amenities will include hospitality suites, club seats and loge boxes."
The preliminary push, as happened prior to Memorial Stadium improvements, is to ascertain the level of financial support for the project. This has been a subject of discussion among major donors for months.
To the letter
According to the Thomas letter, the projected plan calls for 10 to 14 suites at the top of A Section, each with 12 to 14 padded chairback seats and featuring refrigerator and sink, catering, exclusive entrance to suite level, access to club area and restrooms, TVs and coat closet.
The fee is $60,000 annually, that number discounted according to the number of years contracted. The first option is five years. If 14 are sold, that would bring in more than $800,000 annually. In addition, four-seat loge boxes and club seats will bring in more than that. Clearly, Thomas already knows what to expect from AECOM, otherwise he wouldn't be able to make the projections mentioned in his survey.
Look for a quick sellout on suites. One donor informed that he has verbally signed up but, based on what he hears, might not make the cut.
This is one piece of the financial puzzle.
Like the stadium operation ($121.9 million), the Assembly Hall is expected to spill into seven figures, and will take multiple years for completion.
Warren Hood, with the experience of heading up the stadium renaissance, is now deeply engaged in the Hall. He reports:
"We're going through the same process that we used for the stadium. The results of the stadium survey allowed us to determine the amount of premium football seating, and we hit those numbers to a T."
If times are tough economically, they were no different during much of Guenther's nearly two decades. When Guenther entered his final school year as athletic director in September 2010, he had raised $300 million for buildings, had sold out the stadium's premium seats and showed 375 donors of $10,000 or more topping $12 million annually.
The 42 for-sale football suites are sold out this season, and Hood reports 95 percent of club seats are sold, even as some contracts ran out after three years. Many of the same fans and corporations that bought stadium suites will also buy basketball suites, and Hood expects the demand to exceed availability.
The concern at Memorial Stadium isn't so much the premium seating as it is with season tickets beyond the packed horseshoe (at $99 per).
Ron Zook's last UI team averaged fewer than 45,000 for the six games other than Ohio State (55,229) and Michigan (60,670), and the 2012 home schedule doesn't have anything resembling an attraction like Michigan or Ohio State this season.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.