You have to see it to believe it: State Farm Center update

By Alex Roux

When you walk out of the north tunnel and onto the arena floor, the first thing you notice is the seats.

Formerly drab and gray, the seats at State Farm Center have had color injected in them like they landed in Oz. The old gray seats in the 200-level had been torn out in favor of new navy blue ones prior to last season, but empty grays in the lower two levels of the arena could still be seen on TV.

Not anymore.

All 15,500 seats at State Farm Center are now either orange or navy blue, and the aesthetics are eye-popping. Fans will appreciate the new blue seats in the lower two seating bowls for their comfort, as they’re wider and heavily padded than in the past. Students will stand and yell in front of the first-level orange seats that will encircle three-fourths of Lou Henson court.

Of course, the seats are far from the most significant change that will come out of the three-year renovation project. As Illinois Associate Athletic Director Warren Hood led members of the media through the still-active construction zone, he pointed out some of the highlights of the 52-year-old arena’s new amenities.

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For those who can afford it, the luxury suites of the Traditions Club will offer a spectacular fan experience. State Farm Center has never had luxury seating, and the new areas will definitely be some of the nicest in the country. Hood led the contingent through a large carpeted area centered between the rows of suites at midcourt, where luxury suite members will be able to stand, eat, drink and watch the game when they’re not in their seats. Athletic Director Mike Thomas should call it the “schmooze-zone” for his highest donors.

We were able to see how the game day experience should benefit the average fan, as well. The expansive new Grand West Entrance will be an excellent spot for fans to meet and mingle pre-game, and it’s now connected to the ticket office. For fans who like to enter on the east side, don’t worry. You get a new entrance, too. It’s not as grand, but it does have a lounge for recruits and their families.

Concession stands are now built into a widened concourse, rather than jutting out into walking areas like they used to. Bathrooms will be on both concourses instead of just the lower level, and you won’t appreciate the scale of the expanded second-level concourse area until you see it for yourself.

Hood said that nearly all the necessary infrastructure is in place for the Dec. 2 home opener against Notre Dame, and that much of the work in the next month will be merely cosmetic. Like any construction zone, the place definitely needs a facelift before basketball can be played.

Areas of the arena are coated in varying layers of dust, and parts of the underlying concrete was stickier than the floor at KAM’s. But Hood sounded confident that the arena will be ready to go.

He also pointed out which features won’t be ready until the season after next, starting in November of 2016. The Manny Jackson Hall of Fame in the West Entrance will probably be most anticipated: it will be a hoops heaven for Illini fans. Air conditioning won’t fill the arena for another year, and the Legacy Club Lounge will have to wait, as well.

New video and ribbon boards won’t be ready until next season, either. And after much of the shiny newness has worn off State Farm Center a year from now, the new HD screens hanging above the court will be a main attraction, four times bigger than the previous ones.

Much like the orange and blue seats will grab your eye when you walk into State Farm Center for the first time this season, those new screens will pop in 2016.

Alex is a senior in AHS.

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