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Official Review by Marcus Traxler, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Built in 2001, the Alerus Center in Grand Forks is the newest dome in the Football Championship Subdivision of college football and its main purpose is to host the University of North Dakota football team. From 1927 to 2001, the University of North Dakota played outside at Memorial Stadium on the southeast side of campus. While the team still uses Memorial Stadium today to house its football operations, it’s the domed stadium along the Interstate that is the center of all of the football action in Grand Forks.
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The prices are a little steep for an FCS football game in North Dakota, bringing $5.50 for a cheeseburger and $7.50 for a chicken strip basket. A small popcorn is $4.50, which might be among the highest anywhere for your average sized movie cup of popcorn. Their price for 20-ounce Coke ($3.50) is the one item which is most in line as far as price of all of the items they sell.
One unique item that the Alerus Center has going is its prime rib sandwich ($7). They are sold along with strawberry margaritas and craft beers (each $6) at the Pub 42 stand on the east concourse. They have a carving station in plain sight and carve the meat for each order and based on the reactions of those who bought a sandwich, it's a satisfying choice. The concession stands offer a $3 pulled pork sandwich special in the fourth quarter, which is a nice way of getting one last push of fans before the stands close.
The City of Grand Forks, not the university, owns the Alerus Center and that allows the building to sell alcohol and beer. The aforementioned craft beers include Shock Top, Leinenkugel's, Summit, Blue Moon and Fat Tire and while most beer fans are going to question that craft beer selection, they're options nonetheless to go with Coors Light, Miller Lite and Bud Light being sold elsewhere in the stadium. All of the beers are $6 and that includes cans of Mike's Hard Lemonade being sold, as well.
North Dakota fans haven't had much to cheer about since the move to Division I in 2008, leaving the North Central Conference where they had won 28 conference championships and a Division II title in 2001. The tailgating set up on the south side of the dome is impressive, where multiple lots are filled with vans and RVs and people are out and about, especially early in the season when the weather is more temperate.
The dome is loud when the fans make some noise, but it isn't the most intimidating atmosphere. The fans in the front row are surprisingly distant from the field with 40 feet separating them from the sideline and not as close as at fellow FCS domes like Fargodome at North Dakota State or UNI-Dome at Northern Iowa.
The game I was in attendance for in September 2013 had the largest crowd UND had seen in three years, which is a good sign for the burgeoning green and white, who are trying to gain a foothold in very strong Big Sky Conference. As for the seating, the sightlines are much better the closer one sits to midfield, mainly because the seats near the end zones face directly toward the field in front of them.
The Alerus Center is pretty close to many of the retail stores in Grand Forks, which provides for a lot of solid options for food. If you're looking for some non-chain options you can try local favorite Red Pepper. They have a location just north of Alerus Center and Esquire magazine called it the best late-night food in the country. Their "grinder" sandwich is interesting, with a sub sandwich with hot sauce, shredded cheese and taco meat and it can be eaten hot or cold. I'll personally recommend the chicken tortilla soup, which is delicious.
Popolino's Pizza is also between the UND campus and the dome and is a local favorite, with their Hot Wing pizza, which is exactly what it sounds like.
You might notice that I haven't mentioned UND's nickname to this point and that's because they're currently in a moratorium after officially retiring the "Fighting Sioux" nickname in 2012, after much legal wrangling with the NCAA over the previous decade. So they don't have a nickname and won't for a few years. But the fans come out in full force with their "Sioux" gear and they carry a tremendous amount of pride with the old nickname. It will be interesting to see how that carries over in the next few years, especially if the university decides on a new nickname.
Football will never be the top sport at UND. That honor is going to reside with men's hockey for the distant future. But the energy level around their football program could rise now that the school is fully integrated in the FCS level of Division I and competing in a strong football league.
Given its proximity to Interstate 29, it's not real hard to get to the Alerus Center. Exit 140 off I-29 is probably your best bet. There will be little trouble to get into the parking lots, although the specific lots for tailgating and general parking could be a bit better marked.
Tickets are $20 or $25 in near midfield, depending on the opponent and then down to $15 or $20 near the end zones. Student tickets are free with an ID. For comparison, tickets range from $40 to $45 for a men's hockey game for UND. Overall, tickets are very reasonable for solid football in a comfortable stadium.
Ultimately, the building is nice, especially after getting to tour the press and suite levels, which are terrific. But it's a pretty standard football atmosphere inside and the concession prices are much too high. UND is going to have good opponents coming to Grand Forks now with the Big Sky in play and that should make for some entertaining games.
One point for the live music and games for kids outside the building before the game. That's a good way to get fans and families of all ages out before UND games. One additional point for the great tailgating outside the Alerus Center.
Member Review by Kim Johnston on Sep 30, 2015
I love going to the Alerus Center!
While a bit quiet, the extras make up for it. Great concessions, a wide variety of beers, fun contests and more. I can't wait to return.
1011 University Ave
Grand Forks, ND 58203
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