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Official Review by Jordan Baer, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
With the construction of the Ford Center, the Evansville Purple Aces look to return to the top of the Missouri Valley Conference. It's been more than half a century since the Aces moved into a new facility as they have called Roberts Stadium home since 1956. Although there have been two previous unsuccessful attempts to move the University of Southern Indiana into a downtown arena, the stars finally aligned this year when construction was completed on the Ford Center and the Aces agreed to move in.
The Ford Center brings the Evansville sports scene into the 21st century with its modern, state-of-the art amenities such as 16 16-person suites, one 24-person suite, two eight-person mini suites, two 10-person mini suites, 92 main concourse loge seats, and 516 club seats with access to suite-level clubs.
Located in the heart of Main Street, the Ford Center is projected to be the catalyst in the renaissance of downtown Evansville. By upgrading and bringing the Evansville Purple Aces to the Ford Center, look for many devoted Aces fans to fill up eateries, shops, and parks in downtown Evansville before and after each home game.
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".
If you go down the east side of the building, you will find a few different foods to choose from such as gyros, baklava, hummus, and Dippin Dots. But if you walk to the other side of the arena or around the front side of the arena, the selections get very narrow and ordinary. I would like to have tried a gyro sandwich but I really didn't want to pay $8 for one.
I was hoping that the Aces would sell special commemorative cups like the Evansville Icemen do given that Evansville is the home to Berry Plastics who manufacture the vast majority of sports team cups. I expect that we will see some of these types of cups once the Aces get settled in to their new home.
I would also like to add that while my current opinion is that the food selection could get better, I also believe that the architects of the Ford Center did a great job leaving room for future expansion of restaurants, bars, and clubs to set up shop inside the arena. The Ford Center has great potential all around.
Although the Aces have a long way to go in terms of selling out the Ford Center on a daily basis, the move to the Ford Center has still injected a lot of energy into the Aces fanbase. Attendance for the game I attended was announced at 5,198 fans. This is almost double what they had been getting at Roberts Stadium.
One of the main problems the Aces Athletic Department needs to work on is their student section. Even though the student section is a premier section on the floor, only one or two rows of students were observed. The rest of the section was occupied by the pep band. If the Aces are going to make the Ford Center a success they need to get their students more involved.
As for the general audience, I was glad to see that many of those who have been loyal to the Aces had indeed made it down to the new Ford Center. During construction, many of the older Aces fans had threatened not to make the switch to the Ford Center due to parking woes. For the most part, these fans and alumni look to have made the transition successfully.
The neighborhood is good but it can be great. It is important to understand that Downtown Evansville has been dead for many decades and the Ford Center is the first venue to try and bring new life to it. Therefore, it is going to take a season or two for Downtown Evansville to adjust and improve around the Ford Center. We are already seeing the renaissance beginning in the surrounding neighborhoods, but in the next few years the area will look completely different.
In the meantime, before and after the game, there are two areas I recommend visiting. First, if you don't want to walk far, just take a short jog down Main Street. There you will pass by Milano's, Angelo's, Emge's Deli, and Salad World. If those restaurants aren't enough for you, then you should drive to Casino Aztar which is on the far western tip of Riverside Drive. There, you will find burgers, BBQ, and various forms of entertainment.
The student section for Aces games is continuing to plague the Aces men's basketball team and their attendance figures. The rest of the city and alumni base is doing their part in terms of showing up to keep the average attendance over the goal of 3,500, but I would like to see some more energy from them.
Like many other universities in the Indiana and Kentucky regions, the University of Evansville has a lot of elderly fans who grew up during the time period of Indiana and Kentucky basketball's glory days. The challenge for UE now is to retain this fan base but recruit younger fans at the same time.
I see a lot of potential in the Evansville Purple Aces. I truly believe that once the Ford Center begins bringing in recruits who will take UE back to the top of the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC), the Ford Center will be filled to capacity for every Aces home game.
As far as I'm concerned, the Ford Center isn't hard to access for games. But with that being said, the number one complaint amongst the locals is that there isn't enough parking next to the arena. I had no problem parking on Fourth Street, but many other residents feel that the surrounding areas are too far of a walk and have skipped many games.
As time goes on, I expect parking to become less of an issue as the community will finally embrace an urban arena, the surrounding area will be developed, and mass transit will eventually be upgraded or installed around the Ford Center.
If you come by car and are looking to get in and out of downtown quickly, I highly recommend parking in the "back 40" which is the parking lot behind the Civic Center. If you are coming to the Ford Center and want to enjoy the surrounding neighborhoods, park on the southern side, which is between the arena, Casino Aztar, and the Ohio River.
Yes, ticket prices to Aces games have gone up a couple of dollars since they played at Roberts Stadium, but that's the price you pay to have a new state-of-the-art arena like the Ford Center. At the Ford Center, there is something for everyone, and the experience will only get better as the neighborhood around the Ford Center improves itself. If you're looking to visit a city where you can get a taste of both the old and legendary facility as well as a new 21st century arena, you definitely need to come to Evansville, Indiana where you can see both Roberts Stadium and the Ford Center.
I give one point to the city of Evansville for building an arena as nice as the Ford Center. Many naysayers said it couldn't be done. They were wrong as those who truly cherish the games of hockey and basketball won out. Also, the city of Evansville still has Roberts Stadium. Look for these two facilities to be a one-two punch for Evansville.
I give one point for the city of Evansville and architectural firm Populous for incorporating the Ohio River Bend layout into the Ford Center. A new piece of art will go up outside of the Ford Center that will commemorate the Ohio River in Evansville. Inside the Ford Center, the seats are painted to replicate the bend in the Ohio River around Evansville. The Ford Center has a state-of-the-art design both inside and outside.
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