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Official Review by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) is the third-largest educational institution in the Alabama University system, after the University of Alabama and Auburn University. It has been the fastest growing university in Alabama, as it has greatly expanded its campus in downtown Birmingham and now has an enrollment of over 19,500 students. Its academic programs in the fields of medicine, business, and the liberal arts are considered among the top in the country.
The school's athletic teams are known as the Blazers, with a fire-breathing dragon as its logo. The trailblazer for sports at UAB was Coach Gene Bartow, who served as the school's first athletic director, as well as its basketball coach from 1977 to 1996. The "Father of UAB Athletics" was recognized by the school at his retirement with the renaming of the basketball arena in his honor. The arena opened in 1988 and has a capacity of 8,508 in its basketball configuration.
The basketball program has thrived at Bartow Arena, as it has an all-time winning percentage of .800. The Blazers have been to fifteen NCAA Tournaments, with three Sweet Sixteen appearances and one Elite Eight appearance. UAB has also been to the NIT on eleven occasions. The Blazers have had winning seasons in all but three of their 30-plus years of existence.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The concession stands at Bartow Arena events are contracted out to McAlister's Deli, a national chain. The food is of much higher quality than you would find at a typical athletic event. Two McAlister's specialties are on the menu: the club wrap ($8.75) and the Deli Classic sandwich ($7.95). The typical stadium and arena standards are also available, including nachos ($5.50), hot dogs ($3.50), popcorn ($3.50), chips ($2.50). Beverages include Pepsi products ($4.50 for a 32 ounce fountain drink) and bottled water ($3.25).
UAB has done a wonderful job in weaving its brand into almost every facet of the fan experience at Bartow Arena. Before you even enter the arena, you'll definitely want to stop and have your picture made with the statue of Blaze the Dragon. You can't miss it, as it is right in front of the main entrance of the arena. Once inside, the color scheme of the facility is Blazer green. A recent renovation of the immediate basketball portion of the arena has resulted in the installation of very comfortable padded chair-back sets, all clad in green. The basketball floor has a new graphics package, with "UAB" at midcourt and a wooden inlay of colored wood at each end of the court displaying the dragon mascot. If you look towards the rafters, they are filled with banners from the Blazers' many successful postseason appearances.
UAB is an urban school in the midst of Alabama's largest city, with a population of more than 1.1 million in the metropolitan area. Its 100-block campus is within walking distance of the business district, the medical district and Birmingham's finest restaurants and nightlife. There is also easy access to recreational areas, such as the Railroad Park Greenway and Regions Field, home of the Double-A Birmingham Barons.
Among the dining establishments you will want to check out before or after a Blazers game are the Highlands Bar and Grill, Dreamland BBQ, the Mellow Mushroom and the Good People Brewing Company.
There are a number of lodging options to choose from during your stay in the Magic City. Hotels within a few blocks of UAB include the Courtyard Marriott, the Doubletree Birmingham, the Westin and the SpringHill Suites.
Football may be king in the state of Alabama, but basketball is tops in Birmingham. Coach Gene Bartow made sure of that during his more than 23-year tenure at UAB. The string of successful seasons and postseason play have led to a very passionate fan base. The student body receives free admission to all Blazer games, and with the residence halls only a few blocks away, they turn up in large numbers. The citizens of Birmingham have also claimed the UAB basketball program as its own, as the only professional franchise in town is the Birmingham Barons, whose season begins towards the end of the academic year. It is not unusual to see Birmingham businessmen head over to Bartow Arena after work to catch a Blazers game.
The easiest and most direct way to access Bartow Arena is via I-65. Coming from the north, you exit at 4th Avenue South, turn left, and at the second red light turn right onto 13th Street South. From the south, you would take the University Drive exit, turn right and go to the third red light, turning left onto 13th Street South. Though there is no specific parking deck for the arena, there are numerous parking structures within a block or two of the Bartow Arena. Once at the arena, the accessibility is excellent, as there are more than adequate ticket windows, concession stands, restrooms and entry points into the arena.
The pricing structure is very straightforward for Blazers games, as lower-level seats are $22 and upper-level seats are $17. Premium games such as the Auburn or the University of Alabama contests are $3 more. Parking for athletic contests in UAB lots is $5, while non-university lots in the area may charge more. Hotels in downtown Birmingham fall in the $100-$125 range, which is much lower than you would typically find in a city of more than one million people. The concession prices are very reasonable, with quality food from McAlister's Deli.
Birmingham realizes it played a rather violent and ignominious part in the Civil Rights era, and knows it cannot ignore it. The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute was established to recognize the past, but also to celebrate the accomplishments of the Civil Rights in bringing massive change to the South and the nation. It is well worth a visit.
Birmingham was built upon the steel and iron industry. To recognize this, a statue of Vulcan, the God of Strength, was placed atop Red Mountain. The statue and the park surrounding it provide a stunning overlook of the city.
The Blazers are not known for being a dunking team. However, they are prodigious shot blockers. The athletic department has built a "Welcome to Blockingham" promotional campaign for the team, and the head coach makes a donation to charity for each shot blocked.
Member Review by BamaBob on Mar 19, 2013
Few men can say they took a basketball team to a Final Four. Even fewer can point to an arena with their name on it. Rarer still are those who can say they started a program from scratch. The late Gene Bartow – the answer to the trivia question, “Who replaced John Wooden at UCLA?” – may be the only basketball coach in Division I history who can claim all three. In 1977, Bartow left the Bruins after compiling a 52-9 record over two seasons to start the athletic program at UAB. In 18 seasons as coach, Bartow never had a losing season, compiling a 340-203 (.626) record and leading the Blazers to 14 post-season appearances (9 NCAA/5 NIT). His best team was 1982, finishing with a 25- 6 record and reaching the Elite 8.
Opened as UAB Arena in 1988, the building was renamed in Bartow’s honor in 1997, a year after his retirement. The arena has presented a formidable challenge for the opposition, with the Blazers compiling a 297-70 record (.809) in the 24 years since opening the doors. UAB has an impressive record of reaching the post-season, having qualified 25 times (14 NCAA/11 NIT) in 35 seasons. One of the more memorable appearances was in 2004, when Mike Anderson led the Blazers to a 76-75 upset of #1 overall seed Kentucky in the 2nd round before losing to Kansas in the Sweet 16.
For the past 18 seasons, UAB has been a member of the ever-changing Conference USA, with their fiercest rival being Memphis. On February 16, 2008, an arena-record crowd of 9,392 was on hand as the Blazers lost to the then #1 Tigers, led by future overall top NBA draft pick Derrick Rose.
Member Review by oldskoolberk on Jan 20, 2014
Probably a little biased since I grew up in the area and spent a summer of basketball camp at Bartow Arena, but I always had a special place for UAB basketball.
When you're in Alabama, football dominates and it is dominated by the Tide and Tigers. Basketball, arguably the best program in the last 20-25 years in the state has been UAB. They seem to be in the tournament or in the hunt for a tournament bid. When Memphis was in the C-USA UAB gave them fits as there were some classic games (including the great one in 2008-same one I went to) and UAB has been one of the best Conference USA has to offer in terms of basketball.
FOOD & BEVERAGE: Nothing out of the ordinary. Hot dogs, nachos, peanuts.........yep. About it.
ATMOSPHERE: It seems like anytime you go the place can get loud, but especially when Memphis was in town it was a madhouse. UAB cares a lot about their basketball.
NEIGHBORHOOD: On campus, so there isn't a lot of eats, unless you go downtown Birmingham (in nicer areas). Chains dominate the area around the venue though.
FANS: Again, very passionate about Blazer basketball. UAB is hoping for a big winner in basketball given how the football team is.
ACCESS: It isn't bad getting there, but parking is tricky. I had a friend who works at UAB so he got a nice spot near the arena.
ROI: Well, all you get here is basketball and it is all you need. The place is a good college basketball atmosphere and while it isn't Duke, Kansas, or Michigan State at all, it holds its own.
EXTRAS: The structure of the place is normal, but how it is built creates a nice homecourt advantage for the Blazers. It has a nice brick exterior around and has good sightlines throughout the place.
Member Review by Whisperdeer3 on Jan 21, 2014
F: average at best but many people say that they have the best peanuts.
A: I have seen this place as low as 1500 to 8800 and it is always loud. It is the most personal experience that I have had at a basketball game
N: The campus is building and becoming nice.
F: It takes a special person to be a blazer fan. Because of the lack of notoriety, the fans are all passionate.
ROL: cheep tickets
2011 11th Ave S
Birmingham, AL 35205
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2024 4th Ave S
Birmingham, AL 35233