On Dec. 19, 2013, Cindy Simon Skjodt saved Assembly Hall.
The daughter of former Indiana Pacers owner Melvin Simon and Indiana University alumnae put forth the largest donation in IU athletics history – $40 million – to fund renovations of the historic basketball arena, the university announced at a press conference Thursday in Bloomington.
The Hoosiers' basketball will be renamed Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall at the time of the project's completion in 2016.
"I come from a sports fanatic background, as everybody knows," Simon Skjodt said. "Waves of emotion come over me as I think how proud my dad would be. This is a very important moment as I continue his legacy of generosity and extend my own personal journey of philanthropy at one of the most respected universities in the country."
IU president Michael McRobbie, athletic director Fred Glass, men's basketball coach Tom Crean and women's basketball coach Curt Miller all spoke at the event. The donation is the fourth-largest in the university's history and will help revitalize a building that has been home to the Hoosiers for nearly a half-century.
The $40 million will also serve as a kickstarter to the Catching Excellence campaign, a fundraising project by IU that Glass announced Thursday. The goal of the campaign is to raise $150 million for student-athlete scholarships and further facility projects.
"It's been 42 wonderful years in this building, and it's a terrific building, but frankly it's starting to show its age," Glass said. "Part of our goal in the Catching Excellence campaign is to preserve the best home-court advantage in college basketball by breathing new life into this iconic venue so that it can remain the Mecca that it is for another 42 years, for another generation."
Crean, who has spent the past six years reveling in the atmosphere of the 17,462-seat arena, was ecstatic. He called the gift a monumental moment, both for the department and the university.
"What she just did and what the Simon Skjodt family just did is preserve the legacy of a national treasure," Crean said. "Assembly Hall is something that is often imitated, never duplicated. And what you have now is you've taken this beautiful, wonderful place that now will be expanded upon, built upon, and will be here forever."
Glass said seating at Assembly Hall will remain approximately the same.
A fully renovated south lobby, more bathroom facilities, escalators, a larger, state-of-the-art scoreboard, box seating on the south end of the building and improvements to the facilities heating, venting and air conditioning systems are all on tap. Technological improvements, including electrical services, a new broadcast center and other infrastructural improvements will be part of the changes coming in the next few years.
The funds come to IU through Simon Skjodt's philanthropic organization, the Samerian Foundation.
"Cindy and her family have, of course, been extremely generous supporters of Indiana University over the course of many, many years," said McRobbie, who noted that Simon Skjodt and her family had donated $3.5 million to other projects in recent months. "The Simon family name has long been synonymous with transformative philanthropy in the state of Indiana and across the nation, and it will forever be interwoven with the great achievements of Indiana University."
Months after a leak in the ceiling of Assembly Hall generated a buzz on Twitter during a game, the facility is getting ready for the largest upgrade in athletic department history.
"I strongly believe that if you love this university, you should give back to this university," Simon Skjodt said. "I sincerely hope that I can be a spark that helps ignite the Catching Excellence campaign, and I challenge other alumni who have wonderful memories of their college years to help make a difference for future students."
"Cindy," Glass said moments later, "I think your gift is less of a spark for the campaign as it is a blowtorch.
"You are saving Assembly Hall for Indiana University."