The Convocation Center has been the center of entertainment and athletics in DeKalb for 10 years.
Former NIU President John G. Peters called the building "a jewel rising out of the prairie," upon seeing the center lit from a distance on a drive home from Springfield.
The $36 million arena was completed in 2002 after 22 months of construction, and has since hosted musicians, comedians, trade shows, and, of course, Huskie Athletics.
The Convocation Center is home to both the Northern Illinois men's and women's basketball teams, as well as the Huskie volleyball, wrestling, gymnastics and women's indoor track and field squads.
It has seating for up to 10,000 in the 45,000-square-foot "bowl" arena, an eight-sided video scoreboard, and a 200-meter track. There are four private suites, each with seating for 20, and one club-level suite seating 70.
The Convocation Center also houses Victor E. Court, an auxiliary gym with seating for 800. The Huskie volleyball team plays all its home matches at V.E.C., which also hosts wrestling meets and provides additional practice space for the NIU basketball teams.
The first Northern Illinois athletic event in the new facility happened on August 30, 2002, when the Huskie women's volleyball team defeated IUPUI, 3-1, in the opening round of the Best Western Invitational at Victor E. Court.
On November 22, 2002, the Huskie women's basketball initiated NIU athletics' "The Big Weekend," a Huskie triple-header that spanned three days. The women's team opened the Convocation Center in style by topping Wisconsin, 49-47, thanks to a nine-foot bank shot by guard Monique Davis with 0:02 to play. The next day, the Huskie men's hoops team drew a campus-record 8,041 spectators to the Convocation Center during a 63-48 setback to DePaul. To conclude opening weekend, No. 3 Minnesota edged the Northern Illinois wrestlers, 24-17, before 3,858 fans, including U.S. Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert on November 24.
Since the opening weekend, Northern Illinois teams have played in over 200 contests at the Convocation Center, including some of the most memorable match-ups in Huskie athletics lore.
The NIU volleyball team continued its winning ways at the Convocation Center in 2003 when the Huskies defeated Kansas to win the NIU Best Western Invitational. In 2005, the men's basketball team electrified 5,389 of the Huskie faithful with a 75-70 overtime win over Kansas State. Most recently, the NIU wrestling team posted a 22-19 victory over fifth-ranked Northwestern, Nov. 30, 2007. These historic victories are just a few examples of how the Huskies are building new tradition at the Convocation Center.
In addition to its primary service as the home of Northern Illinois athletics, the Convocation Center has brought world-renowned entertainers from country music stars to comedians to DeKalb.
The first performance at the Convocation Center set the tone for the level of top-notch entertainment to arena has provided for over five years. Legendary comedian Bill Cosby christened the center Aug. 23, 2002.
Cosby isn't the only A-list performer to have graced the Convocation Center stage. Grammy-award winners B.B. King, Bob Dylan, John Mayer and Kanye West have all performed at the Convo, as have dozens of other platinum-selling musicians.
Comedians of all sorts have also become familiar with DeKalb. Cedric the Entertainer, Larry the Cable Guy, Wayne Brady and Dave Chapelle are just a few of the funnymen to perform at the Convocation Center.
As if comedy, music, and athletics wasn't enough, the Convocation Center has presented a multitude of other acts, including The Blue Man Group, Sesame Street Live, and Monster Trucks just to name a few. The arena also hosts Northern Illinois University's commencement ceremonies.
The center was designed to replace Chick Evans Field House, which had been the home of Huskie athletics teams since 1957. That building was turned over to the NIU Office of Campus Recreation when the Convocation Center opened, allowing OCR to meet the growing demand for its programs.
The plans for the Convocation Center also addressed other problems on the West Campus, including a lack of parking spaces. Approximately 3,000 new parking slots were added with the new facility, with a portion dedicated to student parking. A ten-minute walk from those spaces by the Convocation Center puts students in the center of the DeKalb campus.
Prime Group Realty Trust (PGRT) oversaw development of the project, with A. Epstein and Sons International, Inc., serving as architect and engineer, plus Turner Construction providing construction management.
Chicago-based Epstein earned the Chicago Sun-Times Real Estate Development of the Year Award for its work on the R. R. Donnelly Building at 77 West Wacker Drive in Chicago and also was responsible for Washington Library Center and the Eastern Illinois University computer laboratory and a new terminal at Chicago's Midway Airport.
Turner has earned a reputation as a national leader in the construction of athletics facilities. The Chicago-based firm has played a significant role in work at the United Center and Wrigley Field in Chicago, as well as many other projects across the country.
On the Northern Illinois campus, Turner's work is already highly visible in the form of the Stevenson Towers renovations and the restoration efforts on the 100-year-old Altgeld Hall on main campus.
The Convocation Center continues as a partnership between Prime Group Realty Trust and Northern Illinois University, one which also includes development of facilities at the Pine Meadow Corporate Center office park in Libertyville, Ill.