Illinois facing cutbacks in bad economy

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- The economic downturn is forcing the University of Illinois to delay plans to build a new basketball arena or refurbish 46-year-old Assembly Hall.

Illinois had planned to decide whether to rebuild or replace the on-campus arena by the end of 2008, but athletic director Ron Guenther put those plans on hold indefinitely after meeting with university chancellor Richard Herman.

"In talking with the chancellor, [Guenther] feels it's not very prudent to go forward in the current economic climate," Illinois spokesman Kent Brown told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The university had planned to use privately raised money for the project, much like it financed the recent $121 million facelift just across the street at Memorial Stadium.

The university never has released cost estimates for the basketball arena project, but either option would cost more than the work at Memorial Stadium, Brown said.

Herman expects fundraising across the university to be hurt by the economy.

"Certainly we're expecting people to say, 'Uh, maybe next year,'" the chancellor said. "It has to be. People have less money."

Brown said the university also is talking to architects on the Assembly Hall project about building it in phases to spread out the costs.

The decision to postpone the project, Brown said, was based in part on perception. Embarking on a large project after university president Joseph White had warned the three campuses in October to look for ways to cut spending wouldn't be wise.

Herman said Tuesday the cost-cutting measures would almost certainly include job losses.

No decisions have been made, but personnel accounts for about 70 percent of university expenses, Herman said. Cuts could come through attrition or the combination of layoffs and leaving unfilled positions open.