The Charles E. Smith Center is a hub of activity on the campus of George Washington University. Not only is it home to the Colonials basketball teams, you can also catch volleyball and gymnastics at the recently renovated arena. Sports aren’t the only thing happening at the Smith Center, as it has been home to concerts, comedy shows and convocations and is a source of pride for current and past students of the private university located in the heart of Washington, D.C.
The Smith Center originally opened in 1975 and underwent a $43 million renovation starting in 2008. The result was a sleek, modern building that should be the envy of other local programs. The Colonials play in the Atlantic 10 Conference and are only one of two schools (Massachusetts being the other) that have been continuous members since the inception of the conference in 1976. GW owns two conference tournament championships, the last coming in 2007.
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".
I was expecting a little more here, but there is enough to get by if you're hungry. Hot dogs, pizza slices and nachos are all available for $4, while sides of popcorn, pretzels and candy will run you $3 a piece. Fountain sodas are available for $3 (24-ounce) and $4 (32-ounce). There is not much value in getting the larger size here, so if you're not really thirsty, stick with the smaller soda. Major credit/debit cards are accepted, and I did not notice an ATM on site. Prices are fair, just not a lot of selection here for my taste.
I would recommend eating before or after the game elsewhere for a couple of reasons - selection and access. There are two full-service concession stands downstairs, and getting around the Smith Center is not always easy, as the stairwells can get narrow and crowded. I experienced long lines both times I visited, and the fact that the bathrooms are in the same area means the lines can get intertwined so you don't know which one is which. This confusion made me wish I'd had a snack before I got there. If you only need a drink or candy bar, there is a small stand set up in the southwest corner of the arena that moves pretty quickly.
The first thing I noted when I approached the Smith Center was how aesthetically pleasing the exterior design appears. The building has a glass front which allows light in the building, giving the inside a vibrant feel and the light also comes through to the court through multiple windows on each side of the arena. It's a minor detail, but for me it enhanced the experience, as I did not feel as though I was encased in a jungle of concrete and steel.
Once inside, the line moves at a decent pace, with ushers to guide you to your seat if you're not sure where it is located. I strongly recommend purchasing seats on the sidelines if available (sections 212-217) as sight lines in the end zones don't extend to the baseline that you are sitting behind, especially in the upper part of the end sections. There is a beautiful four-sided high definition video screen at center court that shows live action, so you are still able to keep up with the action if you aren't able to see what's going on under the basket. The scoreboard keeps you up to speed on player and team stats along with replays - a great addition with the recent renovation. There are also two small displays (one at each end) that show score, time and possession arrow. These displays are helpful if you don't want to look up and take your eyes off of the action on the court.
The pep band sits in the student section and does a great job of playing during pre-game and breaks in the action. The overall sound quality of the PA is good and the volume is just right . I didn't feel as if the announcer was trying to be the star of the show, which I appreciate.
The only area for improvement in this category is the concourse width and flow. It's tight and sometimes frustrating to maneuver, but the overall vibe and energy in the Smith Center keep this a five-star category.
Located in the Foggy Bottom area of our nation's capital, you will not run short on things to do or see before or after a game at the Smith Center. Being on a college campus, there are plenty of bars and restaurants close by. I received two recommendations from fans sitting close by at the game. For a casual meal, try Burger Tap & Shake (north about four blocks), and if you are looking for a bar atmosphere with good food, Tonic at Quigley's (one block east) should fit the bill.
Outside of Foggy Bottom, there are a ton of things to do in the nation's capital. There are many websites that can help you with planning a weekend in DC - Washington.org is a good one - and even if you're a local (like myself) there is probably a list of places you haven't visited for one reason or another, so take advantage of your time in the city before or after a Colonials game to enjoy what the city has to offer.
I arrived at the game an hour before tip-off, and the student section, located in the 200 level behind the benches, was already full and ready to cheer on their school. They set the pace for the entire arena throughout the contest. Fans were vocal throughout the game and do not get down on their team, even if things are looking bleak. The game I most recently attended came down to the final possession and although the home team was down by a significant amount late in the second half, the arena looked as full at the final buzzer as it did at the opening tip. To me, that says something about the fan base and their support of their team.
Getting to the Smith Center is easiest if you take the Metro (DC's subway system) to the Foggy Bottom-GWU stop which is on the Blue and Orange lines. Taking the Metro will cost you about $5-$9 a person round-trip, and the station is only three blocks from the arena. I don't recommend driving to the game, but if you must, there are parking garages available and you can find a list of them on the school website.
Once inside the Smith Center, navigation becomes a little more difficult. There really isn't much of a concourse to speak of, as the concession and restrooms are located on the lower level, and it gets crowded quickly, especially at halftime. It can also be quite an adventure to get to any of the seats in the 200 level on a crowded game day. Allow yourself plenty of time to get to your destination and back if you plan on leaving your seat during halftime. There are a couple of smaller restrooms on the west side of the building, so depending on where your seats are, you could take advantage of them if needed. The most recent game I attended was a sellout, so I expected it to be crowded; however, if I had to do it again, I would have just remained in my seat for the whole game. This is the biggest drawback to the Smith Center.
If you don't mind seats behind the baskets, they will cost you $10 each. Splurge for tickets on the sides ($16-$22, depending on the seat), and you are still getting a good value. GW does have some 'premium games' on their schedule, and they are a few dollars more per ticket, but I have no problem with shelling out a little more to see a school like Butler or Temple. With decent prices on food and transportation costs that will vary on your method of getting to the arena, I find good overall return on my entertainment dollar in a game at the Smith Center.
The exterior design of the building deserves a point on its own. Well done!
In the southeast corner of the building, there is a small GW Hall of Fame display. It has an interactive video screen and photos of notable GW graduates. There is also a plaque dedicated to Red Auerbach (Class of '41) located directly across the concourse from the display.
There are nice color game programs located at the ticket booth - and they are free!
Other schools in the area get more recognition and have bigger arenas, but if you have the opportunity to catch a game at the Smith Center, don't pass it up - you'll be missing something special.
Its a nice little stadium and is the best basketball atmosphere in DC except for Georgetown, which is overpriced. The endzone seats are only ten bucks and, although they are slightly obstructed, are right on top of the action.
2200 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20037
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