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Official Review by John McCurdy, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Amidst the sometimes-smoggy and often-hazy downtown Atlanta scene, there is a sort of bubble of clarity. Providentially - at least, in the mind of roundball addicts like myself - the purpose of this realm is to host exciting basketball games.
Georgia State University Sports Arena holds within Charles "Lefty" Driesell Court, and if you know not who this hardwood's namesake is, please stop reading this and go look him up. There may be just 4,500 seats privy to the action, but from my experience, any one of them is worth filling with your rear end for an evening at this price.
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Concessions at GSU Sports Arena consist of a single table with a fridge, warming cabinet and popcorn machine. The menu is limited to pizza (by the slice), chips, nachos, soda, and another couple of items. In other words, the offerings more or less mirror what a high school gym might have.
But what's to like about this is that the prices are extremely reasonable "" about what you'd pay at a high school gym, if not lower. Two people could eat and drink for $10, which is slightly lower than the price for one at any pro venue and quite close to fast food value.
So, no, the stand isn't a culinary adventure, but you didn't come to eat, did you? There's plenty of dining options nearby, anyway (see "Neighborhood").
Upon entry, a visitor will notice a distinctly bright and clean appearance. The rafters and walls are well-decorated with banners and a jumbotron/scoreboard, but the clean, crisp white-and-royal blue of the Panthers dominate the eye, leaving no question as to what team stalks its prey here.
What might confuse you a bit, however, are the "seating areas" behind the baskets (students only). I put the phrase in quotes because it's not at all what's expected: The gym is rectangular, not a bowl or hexagon, and as a result there are not bleachers extending beyond and above each goal.
Instead, there are just alcoves with three or four rows. This means minimal distractions on offense (i.e., use of bam-bams during free throws) for both teams; whether or not that's a good tradeoff, the individual can decide. For my two cents, I like this unique feature.
So, more on this in "Access," but for the unaware, GSU's campus is the epitome of a downtown college setup. I won't say this does away with sightseeing opportunities and certainly won't pass judgment on it as better or worse than a traditional Southeastern school, but one must come expecting something different from even Georgia Tech's "urban" campus.
There actually is some nice greenspace nearby at Hurt Park "" a quaint little triangle at Edgewood Ave. and Courtland St. Of equal, if not greater interest, though, is Underground Atlanta just a couple blocks West. Here are tons of restaurants and nightlife easily accessible and, in case of bad weather, largely covered.
The food court likely has some iteration of the cuisine you're looking for, while standalones Johnny Rockets and Scores offer Americana sit-down style and Georgia Peach (down-home) and Footprints (Jamaican) add some variety. Note that during the day the area is family-friendly with shopping and occasional public performances, while later clubs really come alive.
As in most college stadiums, a student section contains those rowdy attendees while the general public are seated separately. The segregation is much more extreme at GSU, however, as the architecture previously described serves for only one blending of the two groups.
The "kids" closest to the not-half-bad and definitely loud pep band and are really quite into it, all things considered. Remember that because of Georgia State's location, not all that large a portion of the student body lives on or even close to campus; many commute from outside the heart of downtown, so for the turnout to be at this level is impressive.
The alumni/general sales seating parts are worlds more tame, not to mention more sparsely populated, but these folks too are following the action. It's hard not to with a well-lit interior and intimate setting, after all.
And now the biggest drawback to being in the dead center of a city, especially when that city is Atlanta: Getting around. The metro area's faithful public transportation system, MARTA, is a good option here, with both a Georgia State station and the main terminal Five Points practically next door.
If one must drive, 85/75 is the highway to use, with Exit 248 (A or B) or 249 (B) the best deposit spots. This is also very near the junction with I-20, so if approaching from the East or West on that interstate, getting off at 56B and taking surface streets is also a possibility.
Main thoroughfares Memorial Dr., Peachtree Rd. and Piedmont Ave. get a bit complicated around this neck of the woods, as one-ways are frequent and connecting streets aren't always as clearly marked as they could be. G Deck is probably the one to go to, and that's accessible via Courtland (one-way South!) and Collins (kind of hidden).
On to where these digs shine, and that's in bang for the buck. It's $12 (twelve!) for most seats in the place, and I can guarantee you that because of the size and sight lines, there quite literally is not a seat in the house that doesn't get you in the game. If you're a Panthers fan "" or even just a big fan of the sport - $120 for season tickets and an even closer vantage makes perfect sense.
Purchasing unfortunately has to be done through the annoying Ticketmaster, and seating charts aren't all that easy to find. Let's just put it this way: Single-game tickets will put you in the "upper" level, yes, but in this gym, that's still awesome.
Two points for this dual-pronged benefit: First, the streamlined feel of GSU Sports Arena. The folks are courteous, and if for some reason they don't have the information or accommodation you need, they find a way to get it.
This in turn means the focus is entirely on CAA basketball, which in case you haven't noticed, is high-quality, a bargain and only getting better. Come see a George Mason, Old Dominion or Virginia Commonwealth, or just enjoy an on-the-come-up home squad.
The final point can be attributed to the effort that's gone into integrating the Arena into downtown Atlanta. In case you've never read a review of mine before, I love to make fun of the disorganized city I've called home all my life, so to nestle a solid basketball product in the middle of all this mess is darn-near incredible.
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50 Upper Alabama St
Atlanta, GA 30303
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