CHAMPAIGN — The University of Illinois is planning to expand its conference center at the I Hotel, possibly adding more than 16,000 square feet of meeting space to the 11-year-old building.
Construction could begin next month and end in September 2020, according to a timeline included in materials for this coming Monday’s meeting of the UI Research Park board.
At that meeting, the board is expected to vote on allowing its chairman to sign a new ground lease between the Research Park and Fox/Atkins Development, which manages the conference center.
“The Conference Center expansion will be delivered by utilizing the existing development agreement between the University of Illinois Research Park, LLC and Fox/Atkins Development,” according to the meeting materials.
The expansion would include a 14,500-square-foot exhibit hall that can be subdivided into six sections, according to blueprints in the meeting packet. It would also have two meeting rooms, a conference room and a staging kitchen.
The total expansion would be 32,500 square feet, Director of UI Auxiliary Services Lowa Mwilambwe said, and it will cost about $13 million to build.
"Just as the original building, the expansion will generate revenue which will be used to pay expenses associated with the building," Mwilambwe said.
The expansion would be built off the southeast corner of the existing 38,000-square-foot conference center, and the exterior would have a similar look.
“I think it’s pretty clear that the demand warrants the expansion and has for several years,” developer Peter Fox said, declining to comment further.
The conference center loses out on 15 to 20 events a year that would draw more than 600 people, according to Fox Development Corp. documents previously given to News-Gazette Media.
The I Hotel and Conference Center opened in 2008 just south of the State Farm Center, and last year, Fox said it has been successful.
Unlike the five-story, 125-room hotel, the conference center is owned by the University of Illinois, and in its first 10 years, Fox/Atkins has returned an operating profit to the UI of about $3 million, Fox said.
The conference center cost the UI $11.6 million to build, according to News-Gazette archives.
According to the meeting documents, 223 parking spaces would be added while 80 would be removed to make space for the expansion.
The parking construction would begin in September, with the building construction beginning in January, and a certificate of occupancy could be received possibly by Sept. 30, 2020.
(This article has been updated with comments from Lowa Mwilambwe, Director of UI Auxiliary Services.)