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Official Review by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Indianapolis returned to the professional ranks of minor league hockey in 2014 with the arrival of the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. The Fuel’s inaugural season ended a ten year absence of minor league hockey and coincided with the renovation of Indiana Farmers Coliseum. It was definitely big news for hockey fans in the city, who have an enduring support for the sport since 1939.
The coliseum is located on the Indiana State Fairgrounds and underwent a two year, $63 million renovation, before welcoming both the Fuel and the IUPUI men’s basketball team in the fall of 2014. It was the largest capital improvement on the fairground’s 123-year history and much of the facility's historic value was well preserved in the renovation. You cannot tell from the exterior that any changes were made. The interior’s aesthetics have been dramatically altered with the installation of the original terrazzo floors, exposed walls and steel support beams, and the inclusion of 96 original wooden theater seats.
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 food at the coliseum has been upgraded, including gluten-free options and vegetarian choices, Vienna beef hot dogs, gourmet burgers, fresh-cut fries, and pizza. The Angus beef burgers ($7), brisket sandwiches and pulled pork with kettle chips ($8), Italian and mettwurst sausage sandwiches ($8), and chicken finger baskets ($8) are a few of the tasty new choices that can be found at various concession areas. The grilled sausages at the Sausage World Stand come topped with tantalizing toppings and there is a stand for craft beer from around the state that includes local Sun King and Carson Breweries ($9). The basic hot dog ($4) is fresh, juicy, and served on a lightly steamed bun.
The main entrance to the coliseum is where a lot of the action takes place before the game. The spacious lobby may include Indy Fuel girls, Nitro the mascot, beer sales, ticket ushers, and other folks selling merchandise throughout the modernized, but very retro, main lobby. There is a nod to the arena's past with giant photos, renovated seats, and the former ticket booths in all of their art deco glory on display.
The team's official souvenir shop, The Garage, offers up a bevy of glorious garb from the Fuel and also its NHL parent club, the Chicago Blackhawks. This is the only area to purchase merchandise, but there is an abundance of souvenirs to choose from in the store. You might need an extra few minutes, since this area can become slightly populated with consumers.
The concourses are up above the main lobby and the lower level concourse allows patrons to walk around the entire level. There are a few interesting spots to watch the game and this is where the atmosphere is at its best. The Cuervo Bar is located at center ice and offers mixed drinks and draft beers in a bar-like setting, while at the same time, offering wide-open glimpses of the game. There are few more wide-open spots on the main concourse where fans can stand and watch the game. In other areas, fans can pull up a stool, enjoy a burger and drink, and take in the game.
The exposed steel support and beams on the top level provide a few more concession areas, along with space for various retail spots if needed. It is also here where there is a curtain system that can be altered to allow natural or artificial lighting. This is where much of the original walls and support beams can be touched and admired, along with providing a great view of the ice from up above.
The fairgrounds is not located in the best part of the city, but it is centrally located by car to downtown, Mass Ave, Fountain Square, Broadripple, and Castleton restaurants and bars. Twenty Tap in South Broad Ripple features poutine, bahn mi sandwiches, vegetarian buffalo wing bites, and fried cheese curds to go along with one of the more prestigious selections of beers on tap and a couple that are made downstairs in the basement.
Down the street, The Aristocrat features pasta, sandwiches, and main entrees. Also in this area is one of the Fuel's official sponsor, The Sinking Ship. It's a hockey bar with a menu that stretches from grass-fed stuffed burgers, Cuban sandwiches, and seitan gyro wraps and wings. It is one of the area's most eclectic spots and definitely a happening spot for hockey talk.
About a 15 minute drive north from the coliseum is Blend in Castleton. Customers are transported to Key West, offering cushioned seats as tables, a grandiose selection of cigars, mixed drinks and bourbon served with a thick ice cube. Also in Castleton is The District Tap, a newer facility that offers short rib nachos, shrimp and grits, street tacos, and chicken and waffles at reasonable prices. The outdoor patio features live music and fire pits.
There is an ardent niche of hockey supporters in Indianapolis; their attitude is felt throughout the coliseum. The few thousand who attend Fuel games are loud, decked out in team apparel, and are vocal for any calls that favor the opponents. The coliseum should attract a few extra fans from the nearby ECHL cities of Cincinnati, Evansville, Toledo, Kalamazoo, and Ft. Wayne. This is what the city's hockey fans have been waiting for and they will definitely let anyone in an opponent's sweater know whose house they are in.
The coliseum is located on the Indiana State Fairgrounds at the corner of 38th Street and Fall Creek Parkway, but is not conveniently accessible from a major interstate. The best way to enter the complex is at the Fall Creek entrance. This is closer to the coliseum and its parking, which will cost you $5. If there are not other events taking place at the time of a hockey game, then access is relatively simple. Unfortunately, if there are other events taking place, it may get a little confusing navigating to your parking lot. For example, there was a farm show when I attended a recent game, and I had to wait as people walked cattle and cows across parts of the road at the fairgrounds. There is also slight construction taking place in front of the coliseum.
Ticket prices range from $14-$44, a little higher than division rivals in Cincinnati and Ft. Wayne, but those arenas are not newly renovated. The Fuel could benefit from trimming prices, but a $14 price tag will not break too many wallets. There are plenty of great seats to watch the game, wide-open areas to hang out with friends, and a world-class facility for hockey.
The newly renovated coliseum is a huge upgrade from the previous design and the engineers and artists made sure that they left their mark with a few pleasing aesthetics. The decor inside provides a small window to the arena's past, but this is no doubt a modern and state of the art facility that should serve the city of Indianapolis well with many years of minor league hockey.
The city finally has a wonderful facility to house minor league hockey. In fact, this city could even be an American Hockey League (AHL) town. The coliseum has all the comforts, seating, and amenities one would desire at their professional facilities. The partnership with Chicago in the NHL should cement the Indy Fuel as another viable entertainment option in the Circle City.
Member Review by jasonbohn9 on Dec 16, 2014
I watch a lot of minor league hockey. So, since I was in Indianapolis for a weekend, I made a point to see the new ECHL entry, the Indy Fuel. I realize it's their first year in the league, but I just saw way too many opportunities to have fan friendly things involved. Minor League sports organizations that "get it" realize that you have to give more on the minor league level. More promotions, better in game activities to keep the crowd entertained, and more food options to help people forget the low quality of hockey on the ice....and I didn't get that with Indy at all.
5406 N College Ave
Indianapolis, IN 46220
5212 N College Ave
Indianapolis, IN 46220
4923 N College Ave
Indianapolis, IN 46205
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