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Official Review by Paul Baker, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The University of Massachusetts Lowell is NCAA Division I’s newest basketball member, moving up to the top level for the 2013-2014 season. The River Hawks’ home court is the nondescript Costello Athletic Center, or CAC as it is known around campus. The CAC is home to both the UMass Lowell men’s and women’s basketball teams as well as the women’s volleyball team. A great deal of work was done on the building in preparation for UMass Lowell’s leap to Division I, including the installation of a new basketball court, scoreboard, and bleachers.
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There is one food cart available for fans wanting a snack during a River Hawks game. It is located behind the baseline bleachers, looking somewhat out of place on the side basketball court. The offerings are slim here, with hot dogs ($2.25), pizza slices ($3) and nachos ($3) anchoring the menu. Pepsi products are featured here for two dollars a bottle, with bottled water ($1.75) and Gatorade ($3) also available. Fans needing only a small snack will be pleased with the selection of pretzels ($3), popcorn ($2.50), chips ($1.75), and candy ($3) available.
Fans wishing to take home a souvenir of their time at the Costello Center will find a kiosk selling a variety of UMass Lowell gear, including t-shirts, sweatshirts, shorts, stuffed mascots, and assorted novelties.
The staff at the CAC deserve credit; they really try. All the elements present at most college basketball arenas can be found here. You have the pep band cranking out tunes, the cheerleading squad and dance squad performing their routines, an active mascot roaming around, and you have several contests during play stoppages where young fans can compete for River Hawk prizes. There is an over-the-top PA announcer doing his best to pump up the crowd, and all your standard arena rock blasting over the arena's speakers.
There's just one thing missing: fans. The River Hawks are averaging only around 300 fans per game at the Costello Center. Even in a small venue such as this, the place looks empty. When there are no sounds coming out of the PA system, there are no sounds anywhere. Even on the other side of the court, it is possible to hear the coaches talking to their teams in the huddles. While a basketball purist may enjoy this type of intimacy, it doesn't exactly scream big time college hoops.
The campus of UMass Lowell is located in downtown Lowell, straddling the Merrimack River. The city of Lowell was a manufacturing leader during the industrial revolution. As a result of this rich history, Lowell contains many buildings of historical significance, several of which have been preserved by the National Park Service and are used today as museums open to the public. As is the case with many industrial cities of the north, the boon that brought prosperity to these cities faded, and with it went many jobs and a great deal of money. During this time, the city of Lowell obtained a reputation as a violent, crime-ridden city, best to be avoided. Recent decades have been kinder to Lowell, and there has been a growth in business, cultural, and educational development in the city. Today, Lowell is actually a safer place to live statistically than many New England cities of similar size. Unfortunately, Lowell's bad reputation lingers to this day.
The Costello Athletic Center is located on the north bank of the Merrimack River, on the edge of campus adjacent to several other university athletic fields. Although located in downtown Lowell, this portion of the UMass Lowell campus is situated within a quiet residential neighborhood. A short distance across the river is LaLacheur Park, home of the Lowell Spinners, the short-season single-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox.
Also located within walking distance is the Tsongas Center, sometime home of the River Hawks basketball teams. Fans arriving early can stroll along the riverwalk and observe some of the rapids that powered the old mills back in the days of the Industrial Revolution.
Located a short distance from the CAC is the Lowell National Historical Park, which contains several buildings significant for their involvement in the growth of manufacturing in Lowell and beyond. Fans of American literature should be sure to check out the memorial for native son Jack Kerouac, which is part of the tour.
Despite the revitalization of the city of Lowell, there are not many options for food or lodging for visiting fans in the immediate vicinity of the Costello Athletic Center. Fans looking for a place to gather before or after a game for a bite to eat or (more specifically) drink will be pleased to find the Lowell branch of Boston Beer Works located in one of the old mills located a short drive from the CAC. Beer Works is known for their wide variety of craft beers and fine food. It's a must-see for those fans who enjoy sampling some local flavor along with their sporting journeys.
At UMass Lowell, hockey is king, a statement that can only be made at a handful of universities across the country. The basketball team, new to Division I competition, is struggling to find its niche with the student body here and the community at large. Average attendance for games at the Costello Center has hovered around 300 fans per game. Despite the fact that admission is free for all students, few choose to show up for the games. Even in a venue as small as the CAC, a "crowd" of 300 doesn't look like much. There is a core group of alumni and locals who support the team, but so far, they are in the minority.
Lowell is hardly a destination city, but its proximity to Boston makes it an easy stop for sports travelers to the area. Lowell is located 25 miles northwest of Boston, served by the Lowell Connector off of Interstate 495, a short drive from both interstate 95 and Route 3. Fans arriving to Lowell by train will arrive at the Amtrak station just over one mile away from the arena. The bus station in Lowell is located in the same complex, and has routes that drop passengers off just a short walk from the CAC.
Once inside the CAC, there isn't a whole lot of room for exploring. There is a small concourse on either side of the arena. The front concourse contains the UMass Lowell Athletics Hall of Fame, with plaques honoring River Hawk athletes from various stages of their history, as well as several championship trophies from UMass Lowell's Division II days. Each concourse has a set of small bathrooms on it. The bathrooms are more than adequate to handle the small crowds at River Hawk basketball games. The practice court located behind the baseline bleachers is open for fan traffic, and the concession stand and souvenir stand are located here.
You are not going to break the bank if you attend a game at UMass Lowell. All tickets for UMass Lowell basketball games are general admission, and cost $8 for adults, $5 for children. Admission is free for students. It's amazing to think that for a mere eight dollars a fan can sit a few feet from the action. Comparable tickets at other facilities would run hundreds of dollars. If you prefer seating with a more panoramic feel, the small size of the CAC guarantees a great view of the action no matter where you sit. Free parking is available in the lot directly behind the Costello Athletic Center.
The River Hawks occasionally hold games at the nearby Tsongas Center, where prices start at $7 for youth tickets and max out at $15 for courtside adult tickets.
An extra point is awarded for the UMass Lowell Athletic Hall of Fame located on the concourse to the basketball court. Alumni who have gone on to achieve athletic glory after their days on campus are honored with pictures on the walls. Also displayed for viewing are the university's many championship trophies from their days as a Division II powerhouse.
The Costello Athletic Center is a basic, no-frills facility which served its purpose when UMass Lowell competed in Division II. Now that the River Hawks have moved up to the NCAA's top division, an upgrade to a new facility is needed. As the program grows in stature, it would not come as a surprise to see more games held at the university-owned Tsongas Center, located on the edge of campus just across the river from the CAC. For now, the CAC serves as an adequate, if not elaborate, home.
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50 Warren St
Lowell, MA 01852
30 Industrial Ave E
Lowell, MA 01852