Assembly Hall: A Rose By Any Other Name…

April 30th, 2013

A lot of data collection is necessary to complete any kind of equation to determine which is cheaper: renovating or building new. When the project in question is on the scale of the Assembly Hall at the University of Illinois, one has to trust the data is not being influenced or controlled by those who seek to gain from the results. Ultimately it was decided, after all considerations, as part of the Illinois Renaissance program, that Assembly Hall would be renovated with an estimated price tag of $157 million dollars. As Finster in The Usual Suspects would say, “Thassa lotta cheddah.”

Assembly Hall

Assembly Hall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The good news is, for the Illini faithful who have developed a spiritual bond with Assembly Hall over the years, they are keeping the building. The flying saucer that landed in the fields on the south side of the UIUC campus five decades ago will remain, but it will receive a much-needed upgrade to the modern age of sports arenas. The bad news is, for some of the more easily-wounded factions of Illini Nation, they have sold the naming rights. For $60 million dollars (and thirty pieces of silver!), Assembly Hall will henceforth (or for the next thirty years anyway) be named State Farm Center.

Assembly Hall, University of Illinois at Urban...

Assembly Hall, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, 1963 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The announcement was made yesterday, and to the credit of much of llini Nation who received the news, most of the reaction I read was “meh.” Anyone who follows sports in general is likely aware of the trends involved in arena renovations or rebuilds. These are expensive projects that require massive funding efforts (often at taxpayer expense), and a percentage of this funding comes from returns on sponsorship deals. Visit the United Center, US Cellular Park, and in a few years, Wrigley Field (if it will still be called that), and you will see that every available square inch of space that can be used to generate revenue, is being used to generate revenue. The Chicago-based sports venues have many more opportunities to generate revenue compared to Assembly Hall, but one of the most significant differences is the access to corporate sponsorships. Chicago venues have access to a GDP that rivals the entire country of Switzerland, Champaign-Urbana has a couple Buffalo Wild Wings, Jimmy Johns, some local realtors, and their only real whale, State-Farm Insurance. Certainly one objective of the updated digs will be to attract a few more whales to the Illinois Renaissance cause, and set a deeper tap into that glorious Chicago GDP. “Thassa lotta cheddah.”

My plea is to those wounded, sensitive souls who feel betrayed by the idea of renaming a building. Those struggling with the idea of their own mortality (okay, maybe I’m hanging too much on you here), setting channel markers along the path of their life at places like Chicago Stadium, Comiskey Park, Milwaukee County Stadium, or perhaps Wrigley Field. No one is swooping in with 60 million bucks to purchase your memories, you still hold the rights to those. On top of that, you got to keep the building! I mean c’mon, there was a serious consideration (one that I supported), during the exploratory stage of this project, to just tearing the darn thing down and building a new big-boy arena (one that would likely have been called, State Farm Center). Your precious concrete and metal Jiffy Pop sculpture will continue to rise above 1st and Kirby for the next several generations. I understand nostalgia just fine, but be nostalgic for the object (the building) and not the abstract (the name).

I’m guessing the nostalgia that exists for the name Assembly Hall is already low on gas. The tank is still over three-quarters full with Chief blood, so there’s little room for anything else. I very much look forward to attending Illinois Basketball games in a state-of-the-art venue, and I’m thankful State-Farm is willing to bring 60 million bucks to the effort. Because that’s a LOT of cheddar.

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