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May 18, 2013

Name Changes and the Public: Will Assembly Hall’s New Name Stick?

by Mariah Schaefer

On Monday, April 29th, 2013, Mike Thomas, the University of Illinois Director of Athletics, announced that Assembly Hall will now be called State Farm Center. State Farm made an agreement of sixty million dollars with the university that will last for thirty years. The news was released on Illinois’s athletic website, fightingillini.com.

The announcement came as a shock to many in the community, and opinions of the name State Farm Center are mixed. The dome-shaped building, designed by Max Abramovitz, opened its doors in 1963 with the name of Assembly Hall. It has been called that for fifty years, so it’s natural that it will take some time for individuals to get used to its new name.

“I don’t really care about the name change, really. I mean, [the University of Illinois is] getting money from State Farm, so it’s fine that they can change it, but just by habit — I go there for years ― I will call it by Assembly Hall,” said Rachel Curtis, a junior at Centennial High School.

Karen Klebbe, a Centennial social science teacher, gave her opinion on the subject. “I can understand from a financial perspective why the university would be willing to change the name, because they’re getting a chunk of change from State Farm for improvements and renovations, and I can understand that the reason State Farm would do that is so that they can put their name on it. They want something in return for their money. It makes me a little sad that we’re selling out part of Champaign-Urbana’s heritage in a way, or traditions, and being able to slap a corporate name or logo in exchange for funds to do things. It would be nice if they could find other ways to [get funds],” commented Klebbe.

The Assembly Hall is not the only building in Illinois to have its name changed after many years in operation. Perhaps the most famous building name change of the last decade occurred in Chicago. In July of 2009, the iconic Sears Tower skyscraper was bought by the insurance company Willis Group Holdings, and its name changed to Willis Tower. To this day, a countless number of people still call the building by its original name.

“I don’t even know [when the Sears Tower changed to the Willis Tower]. I didn’t even pay attention because it’s going to be the Sears Tower. It doesn’t matter [that the name changed],” stated Klebbe.

On the same note, everyone interviewed by The Centinal said that the new name of the Assembly Hall will not make its way into their hearts and minds.

“I think that it’s always going to be the Assembly Hall to me. I’ve grown up watching the Fighting Illini, and [the name] Assembly Hall just kind of stuck with me,”  said Ausharra Knox, a hall monitor at Centennial.

The building has been known as the Assembly Hall for five decades. That is two decades more than the thirty years stated in the State Farm agreement. The big question is, since the building has been called Assembly Hall longer that it’s going to be called the State Farm Center, will the new name stick?

“I would think that, generally, things change within a generation. You just need one generation for names or ideas, things in society, to change,” anticipated Klebbe. “If my daughter grows up hearing that it’s the State Farm Center, that will be a generational thing. I will call it Assembly Hall; she will call it State Farm Center. So, it might just stick. It might just.”

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