Every so often during the last 22 years, college sports fans have stumbled upon a small, two-story brick building on the outskirts of the Cook County forest preserves in Park Ridge.
They may have come upon it by mistake and might not have even stopped by were it not for a small sign that said "Big Ten Conference."
But what was a rather nondescript headquarters for one of the most storied college athletic conferences has changed -- if the "B1G" logo on the side of the conference's new building in Rosemont is any indication.
The new three-story, $20 million Big Ten Conference headquarters is the newest addition to Rosemont's burgeoning entertainment district on the east side of the Tri-State Tollway near Balmoral Avenue.
About 40 full-time Big Ten employees moved into their new digs at the end of last month, while construction continues inside on a "Big Ten Experience" interactive museum that will be open to the public early next year.
The area is already getting foot traffic from the Fogo de Chao Brazilian steakhouse on the first floor of the building.
"We're in a much different neighborhood," said Big Ten Deputy Commissioner Brad Traviolia. "In our old facility, we'd have people knock on our door and ask what was going on inside, even though we were somewhat off the beaten path.
"We're in a much more high pedestrian area with the (Fashion Outlets of Chicago) mall to the south, MB Financial Park (entertainment district), the (Donald E. Stephens) convention center and (Interstate) 294. We're putting out a welcome mat for people to come visit."
Inside the facility
The 3,000-square-foot Big Ten museum on the building's first floor will be a "highly interactive" experience featuring touch screens and TVs with footage from old games, Traviolia said, "instead of old glass cases with a jersey hanging or football behind it."
Visitors to the free museum will pass through a doorway in the shape of the No. 1 in the conference's "B1G" logo.
A movie theater-style panoramic area will allow fans to experience "what it feels like to be on the football field, or on the foul line in a basketball game," said Kerry Kenny, the conference's associate director of compliance, who gave the Daily Herald a tour of the facility last week.
Officials estimate the 50,000-square-foot building will host some 130 athletic and academic meetings annually.
One of the primary users of meeting space on the second floor will be the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, a group of provosts and other academic leaders from Big Ten schools, as well as the University of Chicago, which, at least academically, has been a part of the Big Ten since the beginning.
The meetings allow school leaders to share ideas and develop best practices among their institutions, Traviolia said.
"What goes on in Ann Arbor isn't that much different from Madison, Wisconsin, or Champaign, Illinois," he said.
The building includes a large meeting room that will host clinics for as many as 100 football and basketball officials.
Perhaps the best view in the building is from a 25-person meeting room that looks out onto the Tri-State Tollway.
"At certain points of day, you see planes going onto the landing strip," Kenny said.
The third floor has the Big Ten's video command center, where the conference's coordinator of officials and his staff monitor all games on eight 60-inch LCD screens, and one 130-inch screen.
The conference's Big Ten Network broadcasts from studios in downtown Chicago, but it will install a camera at the Rosemont facility for some TV segments, Kenny said.
The conference's inception can be traced to a meeting of university presidents at Chicago's Palmer House in 1895. After spending 18 years in leased offices near Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, the conference moved to Park Ridge in 1991.
Big Ten officials began looking again for a new headquarters once they decided the conference had outgrown its location at Higgins and Dee roads in Park Ridge, Traviolia said.
While the size of the staff was larger, it also was apparent that additional space was needed to accommodate school administrators, athletic directors and coaches that regularly met at the headquarters.
All along, Traviolia said, officials knew they wanted a centrally located destination for a conference that has been traditionally comprised of Midwestern schools -- though the Big Ten also will open a satellite office on the East Coast when the University of Maryland and Rutgers join next year.
Perhaps most important for Big Ten officials' selection of the Rosemont site is its proximity to O'Hare International Airport, hotels and nearby restaurants in the entertainment district.
"We're only two miles away from where our old location was, but we're miles away in terms of convenience and the ease of in-and-out for our meeting guests," Traviolia said.
Coming to Rosemont
The Big Ten had considered another location in Rosemont -- a portion of parking lot space owned by the nearby Crowne Plaza hotel at River Road and Balmoral Avenue.
That site presented "too many hurdles," Rosemont Mayor Bradley Stephens said.
That's when the village decided to offer the Big Ten a piece of property it owned in its entertainment district. Though the Big Ten is a nonprofit organization and won't pay taxes to the village, Stephens said the village was interested in a "daytime driver" for its entertainment district, and was impressed by the prospect of the conference's meeting attendees patronizing Rosemont businesses.
"They're a room night generator (for hotels) and a restaurant tax generator," Stephens said. "I think it's a great tenant for us."
In a deal that resembles a condo agreement, the village agreed to transfer most of the land to the Big Ten, while retaining the space occupied by the restaurant. That allows the village to lease the 10,000-square-foot restaurant space to generate revenue. The village also owns a portion of the building to be used as office space for management of MB Financial Park.
The Big Ten, which fully owns the first-floor museum space and second and third floors, spent between $16 million and $17 million on building construction, and plans to spend another $3 million to $4 million on the museum.