Built in 1927 and renovated in 2000, the Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion is a staple to University of Washington Athletics. Not to mention a favorite destination for fans across Western Washington.
The decade-old renovations not only brought the venue into the modern age, they created a much more intimate experience for every fan who walks through the doors, allowing almost everyone to feel like they're sitting courtside to the ever-exciting U-dub basketball program no matter where they are seated.
On the shores of beautiful Lake Washington, it's not exactly hard on the eyes, either.
While Washington's basketball program may not be quite what it used to be, there's always demand for a game in Seattle since the Clay Bennett debacle that saw the Sonics leave for Oklahoma City in 2008. The arena still brings in the crowds and hosts legions of loyal fans throughout the winter months, making it not only a great addition to a beautiful campus, but a great (and now one of a kind) experience for basketball fans across the region.
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In the international dining-hub that is the city of Seattle, many sports fans have become accustomed to stadium cuisine options that mirror and rival some of the finest downtown restaurants. In some instances, the case can be made that the food is more of a reason to attend a game than the team itself (Safeco Field, housing the Seattle Mariners of MLB, comes to mind). Alaska Airlines Arena does not exactly match that tradition.
Dining seems to be engineered with students in mind, knowing that most will probably opt for the much more exquisite on-campus arrangements. And that's fine, but it leaves the rest of us with only the simplest basics to choose from. You'll find a number of locations to purchase hotdogs and giant pretzels, while the software-developing elite of the area can spring for the pricier burgers and sub sandwiches. If your thirst reaches an absurd and unnatural degree of intensity, make sure to check out the collectible 32oz souvenir cups, as well.
Even for the hotly-contested rivalry game that I attended, I found the pregame ceremonies and introductions to be lacking, consisting of little more than a short video of the traditional riled-up huskies (the canine variety, not the student variety) barking in the hallway as the players emerged onto the court. For the most part, the mood is allowed to be generated by the student-section, which I suppose can be a plus when they're particularly outspoken.
Fans will, of course, be treated to a small representation of the always energetic and ever-intriguing Husky band, who are always happy to perform a wide selection of classic hits and current favorites throughout the game. They're merely a cross-section of the 240 member ensemble that you'll see at football games, but just as happily dance around and swing those sousaphones back and forth like nobody's business.
Set on the western shores of Lake Washington, the University of Washington is easily one of the top 20 most awe-inspiring campuses in the United States. Boasting stunning architecture, incredible views of the lake and two mountain ranges (not to mention the always picturesque Mount Rainier to the south), you won't be disappointed if you're coming from out of state (as for the rest of us, we enjoy these views from almost anywhere in the region).
The campus attractions are a bit of a walk away from the stadium however, so plan to be there early if you intend to take a look around. If you're lucky, the cherry trees in the quad may be in full bloom near the end of the basketball season, which is certainly a site worth seeing if you happen to be around in early spring.
As for dining, expect to walk even further, as most of the best options will be to the west of campus (the exact opposite side of where the basketball venue is located), or at University Village to the north.
As I said before, the mood at Alaska Airlines Arena during a game tends to be set mostly by the vocal student-section, which works pretty well when they have reason to be excited. The cheers they emitted when the home team took to the court were only matched by the boos that echoed around the venue when the rivals emerged from the tunnel. They certainly do their best to get the rest of the crowd screaming, even if the rest of the crowd isn't particularly interested.
If the game's a blowout either way, you won't be terribly impressed by the enthusiasm. But when the score is close, the fans know how to turn up the volume with every field goal scored as the clock winds down.
Parking is a non-issue, with a rather large lot close by built to accommodate the 72,500 seat Husky Stadium next door. At 10,000 seats, no game at Alaska Airlines Arena is ever going to use all of that parking space, but they were still charging $10 to use the lot. To avoid the fee, I ended up seeking street parking in the Laurelhurst Neighborhood a little over a mile away and walking. Plenty of people had the same idea.
For those traveling from the Eastside, the fastest route is the newly-tolled WA-520 bridge, which makes the entire trip a fun exercise in paying extra commuting expenses unless you're willing to go pretty far out of your way to avoid them. If you're heading the opposite direction, don't miss your exit or you'll be paying the toll twice just to get turned around.
The University District itself is hardly designed to accommodate heavy gameday traffic. With the backups you'll sit through to see a basketball game, I'd hate to find out what kind of a hassle it is to get to Husky Stadium during football season.
Tickets range from $29 (bleachers with no backs) plus fees to $42 (if you prefer a chair), which is considerably more than a lot of college basketball venues across the nation. It seems like most fans will be paying for parking, and there's of course that pesky toll that a good portion of the out-of-towners will likely endure.
Food is a bit pricey, but not much more than most sporting venues will ask. I'm honestly still mad about losing the dollar hot dogs at the Kingdome when it imploded, so I've never been much for shelling out $4 for one anywhere else.
Your ticket will also buy you access to the historic "Husky Fever" Hall of Fame inside the venue. You'll browse through decades of memorabilia and read up on the rich history of the University of Washington Athletics Program, as well as get up close and personal with the trophies they've accumulated along the way. Be sure to check it out.
Despite the renovations from 2000, there are still some aspects to this arena that feel old and outdated. This would be fine if I were only talking about the retaining of the old architecture and keeping the venue true to its roots. But things like stained and torn carpet throughout the corridors could be better replaced by, well, almost anything other than carpet where children are carrying sodas.
Still, regardless of the flaws, basketball is still basketball, and Seattle could certainly use as much of it as the city can get. Alaska Airlines Arena, to its infinite credit, provides the city with a commodity that is sorely missed at the professional level.
**Photo credit to Andy Rogers/Red Box Pictures
I have been to Husky Basketball games for years and this year is the best it has been. They have new video boards all around the Arena, in the bowl and in the concourse, which really adds to the experience. The intro videos and marketing is really well done and they have contests that make it fun for everyone.
2650 Northeast University Village St
Seattle, WA 98105
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