The State Farm Center at the University of Illinois is nearing the end of a multi-year renovation of the building still known affectionately as the Assembly Hall. The inside seating area of the arena is basically finished with new suites and different side orientation of the court. A new scoreboard and new ribbon boards are part of the renovation still to occur inside. The outer concourse of the arena is still in transition with new bathrooms added but the extended outer walls not quite ready. After the end of the 2015/2016 season the rest of the renovations will occur. One of the most exciting additions is air conditioning so that the venue is usable in the summer months. I guess no one got warm in 1963.
The arena reopened with its new design in December 2015, after the first few “home” Illini games were played at Springfield’s Prairie Capitol Convention Center.
Max Abramovitz is a world renowned architect that designed Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Pittsburgh’s U.S. Steel Tower and Paris’ Tour Gan. The University of Illinois alumnus also designed this building. Originally called Assembly Hall, it was once the world's largest edge-supported dome. It is 400 feet in diameter and rises 128 feet above the floor. Many people compare it to a UFO when looking from outside. The roof is supported by 614 miles (988 km) of one-quarter inch steel wire wrapped at the base of the dome under intensive pressure. It is the second largest arena in the state, second only to the United Center.
Starting in 2014, the arena has carried a corporate sponsored name, although many local residents refuse to call it by the new name.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
There are some good, but pretty normal options available. Once the outside concourse is finalized, expect to see better operations out here.
Hot dogs ($4), hamburgers ($5), nachos ($4) and pretzels ($5) are the usual suspects and are a pretty good value. Jalapeno cheese dogs and Kansas City style pulled pork and Italian beef sandwiches and Polish sausages are some other options. Papa John's Pizza is also for a choice for $7.
You will see orange at State Farm Center, lots of orange. While the football team at Illinois has often tended to emphasize the color blue, orange tends to dominate the crowd attire at an Illini game.
The dome structure means that the arena is very wide and open. Sometimes that means that the sound does not seem as intense as in some arenas. The new suites and expansive seating options has made it more difficult to travel between some sections of the arena, something that was done pretty easily before the renovation. The big money contributors still get the best seats, but it can mean that the closer you get to the court, the less rowdy of a crowd you will find.
The Illini cheerleaders and dance squad are on hand to get the crowd riled up. The male cheerleaders used to run with a giant flag through the top deck of the arena, but the new design has made the 360 degree run impossible.
There is good scoreboard, but a new one is expected for the 2016/2017 season. New ribbon boards will also be installed above the new suites. Older auxiliary scoreboards are quite outdated but we saw no information about replacements.
Your eye will be drawn to the large amount of banners above the scoreboard. The 1989 and 2005 Final Four teams are prominent, but so are the jersey signs for the honored players of the entire history of the Illinois basketball program.
The seats, as well as the outside concourses, are broken into large circular sections. The Orange Krush student seating section is different than it used to be. On paper the new arrangement would seem to be an improvement but there have not been enough games to see if the student section is as loud and crazy as they once were. The new suites do break up some of the flow of seating, and it is still unclear how the overall impact will be.
The neighborhood closest to the State Farm Center is mostly made up of research facilities, dorms and academic buildings, not to mention high quality athletic facilities. Culver's at 2302 S Neil Street and Espresso Royale (1411 S Neil Street) are a couple of close quick service establishments nearby.
A very short walk away is the area along Green and Wright Streets called "Campustown." There are many bars, shops and restaurants in this area, and they tend to cater to young college students.
Older fans will want to center their post game activities around downtown Champaign. Once a pretty boring downtown area, one will now find many bars and restaurants. The Esquire Lounge is a local icon and should be a stop for everyone. Try a pork chop sandwich and say hi to owner Pedro.
Other great downtown spots are Derailed 57, Blind Pig Brewery, the gastropub DESTIHL, sports bar Jupiter's, and Farren's Pub & Eatery (at a very hidden location at 308 N Randolph Street). There is also a much larger version of Jupiter's on the outskirts of Champaign (2511 Village Green Place at The Crossing Center) that is also a good choice. If visiting that second Jupiter's location also try Billy Balooz right next door (2521 Village Green Place at The Crossing Center).
Downtown Champaign has another wonderful new addition with a Hyatt Place hotel. Stay here and you can easily walk to all the great establishments of the area. A shuttle to games is also available for a nominal fee from here as well.
Urbana is a bit slower pace kind of town. But there are three places that jump out as must visits. Black Dog Smoke & Ale House offers amazing barbecue, just expect to wait in line to get in and that the tasty burnt ends will go quickly. Crane Alley is a nice bar with some great beers and Masijta Grill is a great Korean barbecue.
Fans can get pretty loud. The main problem is Illinois has one of those programs that gives some of the best seats for the high dollar donation types. That leaves the more rowdy "everyman" fan sitting further away from the game. Fans have also been known to sit on their hands during exciting parts of the game, even asking the more engaged fans to sit down.
The student section known as the Orange Krush is almost always on point and keeps the feeling pretty intense.
Big Ten Conference games are where you will see the fans get more intense. This is always a knowledgeable basketball crowd. They will cheer, jeer and get engaged as needed.
Champaign and Urbana are both easy cities to navigate. The State Farm Center is not located close to a major highway but most roads leading to the area will be four lane ones. There are many parking lots available, but it would be a good idea to look at the official university parking site so that you head the right way. Champaign-Urbana is at the crossroads of I-57 and I-74, as well as being the eastern terminus for I-72 so getting to the area from Chicago, Indianapolis and points west will be pretty easy.
Big Ten games will cost the most of any ticket as they start around $45 and go upward. Attending a non conference game can get you in much cheaper. Look for special ticket packages that include a mix of game types for the best value.
The prices can be a bit high, but the level of talent at Illinois and their conference opponents is pretty amazing to watch live.
The architecture of Max Abramovitz's design is a great extra. From the outside it looks like a giant UFO crashed along the prairies of east-central Illinois.
Take a look at the names of the honored players. One will not only see a current NBA star in Deron Williams, but former Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo who played here at Illinois from 1960 to 1962.
Changes to the State Farm Center don't appear to be as groundbreaking as once was hoped for. But they still assure that the venerable old building with the unique UFO shape will be the University of Illinois' arena for some time to come.
I do want to say at the outset that this trip was a lot of fun, and the low score should only be indicative on my experience inside the arena. My friend Chris was my tour guide for the town combo that is Champaign-Urbana, and it really was a nice little town and lovely campus. That being said, Stadium Journey is about the stadiums, so let's begin there.
The walk was less than ideal from downtown Champaign, but certainly not unreasonable. Assembly Hall is next to Memorial Stadium, and neither would be described as picturesque, but at least the football stadium looks like it has a bit of history (translation: looks old). Assembly Hall was probably seen as futuristic when it was built in 1963, with its silver dome-like structure. It has one major drawback besides its unappealing look. You see, in the winter, we tend to have snow in Illinois. And you know what? The snow on that silver backdrop can create some sliding ice when the sun comes out. Well, it just so happens that we got some sun on the day that I visited. That meant they closed all, but one entrance- more on this later.
The most noteworthy part of Assembly Hall is its exterior - it looks like a flying saucer. The fans are as good as the team is - solid and engaged when we're winning, blase when we're not. No reason to go unless you love the Illini.
State Farm Center, formerly Assembly Hall, is an engineering marvel and a relic of 1960s architecture that has become a symbol on the campus on the University of Illinois. Future renovations will alter the interior of the facility that will include a renovation of the seating bowl, four levels of premium seating, improved restrooms, concessions, team store and other amenities. Although the interior will alter in appearance, its exterior should remain unchanged upon completion in 2016.
The 16,618-seat arena debuted on March 4, 1963 and was the first ever concrete dome sporting facility. Its roof is similar to the erstwhile Seattle Kingdome and features a 400 foot diameter looming 125 feet above center court. The 5,000 ton concrete dome is still impressive as when John F. Kennedy was in office. Designed by Illinois alumnus Max Abramovitz, it is the second largest arena in the state. As for comfort and convenience to fans half a century later, the old lady is still keeping pace with the rest of the Big 10 arenas across the region.
Feels like you are close to the floor wherever you sit. Once renovations are complete this place could once again become a tough place for opposing teams to play!
I am going to review this based on last years experience, but I can tell you now that they have begun a complete renovation which will have this venue closed throughout 2014 from what I hear so expect big things. I thought the place was very interesting in design and ever seat felt to be close to the floor. The fans were loud for a week night and it was a good atmosphere. Lots of parking was available. Food was decent and about what you would expect from a college basketball game. The stadium was in definite need of updates, and I obviously was not the only one who thought this. U of I is a large school and this place can get rocking so it is definitely one I will return to when the renovations are complete!
Max Abramovitz is a world-renowned architect that designed Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Pittsburgh’s U.S. Steel Tower and Paris’ Tour Gan. The University of Illinois alumni also designed this building in Champaign originally called Assembly Hall, which was once the world's largest edge-supported dome. It is 400 feet in diameter and rises 128 feet above the floor. Many people refer to it as UFO-looking from outside. The roof is supported by 614 miles (988 km) of one-quarter inch steel wire wrapped at the base of the dome under intense pressure. It is the second-largest arena in the state, second only to the United Center.
Since 2014, the arena has carried a corporate sponsored name, although many local residents refuse to call it by the new name.
Currently the State Farm Center is halfway through a two-year renovation that will dramatically change the environment within the arena and concourses. Being in the middle of a major change, visitors will experience a very unique and disorganized time.
The arena is expected to reopen with its new design in December 2015, after the first few “home” Illini games are played at Springfield’s Prairie Capitol Convention Center.
2510 Village Green Pl
Champaign, IL 61822
32 E Chester St
Champaign, IL 61820
106 N. Walnut St.
Champaign, IL 61820
120 N. Neil St.
Champaign, IL 22903
201 N Broadway Ave
Urbana, IL 61801
2302 S. Neil St.
Champaign, IL 61820
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