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  • Richard Smith

State Farm Center – Illinois Fighting Illini

Photos by Richard Smith, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71

State Farm Center 1800 S 1st St. Champaign, IL 61820

Year Opened: 1963

Capacity: 15,500


It’s Called The Assembly Hall

The State Farm Center at the University of Illinois is often still known affectionately as the Assembly Hall. The arena reopened with its new design in December 2015, after the first few “home” Illini games were played at Springfield’s Prairie Capital Convention Center.

Max Abramovitz is a world-renowned architect that also designed the 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. It was once the world’s largest edge-supported dome and is 400 feet in diameter and rises 128 feet above the floor. Many people compare it to a UFO when looking from the 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 in Chicago.

Food & Beverage 4

There are some good, but pretty normal options available. Once the outside concourse is finalized, expect to see better operations out here.

Hot dogs, hamburgers, nachos, and pretzels 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.

Atmosphere 4

You will see orange at State Farm Center, lots of oranges. 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 other arenas. The new suites and expansive seating options have 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 degrees run impossible.

There is the new, high-quality scoreboard. New ribbon boards have also been installed above the suites. Your eye will be drawn to a large number 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. The suites do break up some of the flow of seating.

Neighborhood 5

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 you will fit in nicely.

Other great downtown spots are Blind Pig Brewery, 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 location also try Billy Barooz right next door (2521 Village Green Place at The Crossing Center).

Urbana is a bit slower pace kind of town. But three places 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 3

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.

Access 4

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.

Return on Investment 3

Big Ten games will cost the most of any ticket as they start around $50 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.

Extras 4

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 recent NBA star in Deron Williams but former Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Colangelo who played here at Illinois from 1960 to 1962. Check out the outer concourses to see if you see where the old and new parts of the venue are tied together. The Orange Krush student sections are an extra all in themselves.

Final Thoughts

This venerable old building with a unique UFO shape is a great place to watch some high-quality basketball. It will be the University of Illinois’ arena for some time to come.

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