Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank When Illinois takes on Ohio State on Saturday November 15th, it will be the final game of their first new season in their fancy new digs. (Sort of) After the 2006 season, a $160 million renovation project known as Illinois Renaissance began on Memorial Stadium, the Fighting Illini’s home field. New permanent stands were completed in August of 2007, with a new student and band seating section buzzing with “Zook Zone” towels on game day. The remainder of the stadium work was essentially completed in September, right in time for the home opener. The west side added luxury suites, indoor and outdoor club areas and a refurbishment of the concourses that now feature an illustrated timeline of Illinois history. There are pictures and/or banners of Jeff George, Red Grange, Dick Butkus, Ron Turner and many more. An outdoor club space was added under the west balcony: the Colonnades Club which features outdoor seats for game spectators in a weather-protected area.
A three-level structure was built above the west balcony to house two floors of suites and an indoor club space, as well as a new press box for media seating and game day operations. The indoor club, which seats 200, has been named the “77 Club” to honor the retired number of Illinois gridiron legend Harold “Red” Grange. In addition, a new FieldTurf playing surface was installed at Memorial Stadium prior to this season. And of course, the press box which I sat in on Homecoming is a huge upgrade from the one during my college paper days. This new media workplace is so much better it may as well be on an entirely different planet from the old one. The entire Renaissance project was conducted while keeping the stadium in a functioning capacity.
Illinois’ record in Memorial Stadium is 236-200-14 entering this season. They head into their clash with the Buckeyes 4-1 at home, but a very disappointing 5-5 overall. Most college football experts predicted Illinois to finish as the Big Ten’s third or at least fourth best team in conference. The Illini have played this season as college football’s perfect example of a Webster definition of “mediocrity.” They will most likely need to sweep their last two games to qualify for the postseason.
For a comprehensive look at the renovation process from start to finish go here
For my Washington Times.com blog “Chicago Blue State.”