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Official Review by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Jacksonville University is a private liberal arts college located along the St. John’s River in Jacksonville, Florida. It has a student body of more than 4,000 students, and offers seven bachelor's degree programs and more than 70 majors.
The Jacksonville Dolphins compete in the Atlantic Sun Conference, and have appeared in the NCAA tournament five times. They were runners-up in the 1970 finals, where they lost to UCLA, despite the efforts of team leader Artis Gilmore. The home court for the Dolphins is the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, which holds 14,091. The arena was built in 2003, and is located in the Jacksonville Sports Complex, which also includes EverBank Field and the Jacksonville Baseball Grounds. In addition to Dolphins basketball, the arena hosts the Jacksonville Sharks of the Arena Football League, the Jacksonville Giants of the American Basketball Association and the Jacksonville Bullies of the Professional Lacrosse League.
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Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
For a majority of Dolphin games, only two concession stands are open, with one on each side of the court. This actually is sufficient for the size of the crowd, and no lines form, even during the halftime break. The offerings are fairly generic, with hot dogs ($5.00), popcorn ($6.00), nachos ($5.00) and soft drinks ($4.00/$6.00). No restaurants are located in the immediate area of the arena. The prices are high, and I would suggest that you stop off-site for a meal before attending a game.
Like many schools that play their games off-campus, it is hard to duplicate that college feel in a cavernous multi-purpose arena. The team and the basketball court itself all carry the Jacksonville University name, but there is little else in the arena to suggest that this is the home of the Dolphins. I have never been to a college basketball game where there were no cheerleaders or a pep band present from the host team. For most games, the arena closes off more than half of the seating area, as the attendance simply does not justify additional ushers, concessions staff and cleaning crew. The two games that do fill the stands are the University of Florida game and the annual River City Rumble with the cross-town rivals from University of North Florida. The Dolphins do have a small basketball facility on campus, Swisher Gym, but it holds only 1,500 and is used primarily for intramural activities by the student body.
As mentioned before, the arena is located in the Jacksonville Sports complex. Its neighbors are the Jacksonville Suns baseball stadium and EverBank Field, home to the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars. In addition to these sports-related facilities, there are eight churches located in close proximity to the arena. There are no restaurants or hotels within walking radius of the building, as they are located in downtown Jacksonville, which is a little over two miles away. Once you cross the bridge, the Jacksonville Landing area offers a multitude of food establishments and accommodations that will fit any budget.
I feel sorry for the Jacksonville University Dolphins basketball team. To be honest, the Flipper fan base is a flop. A majority of the fans who do attend are friends and families of team members, along with an equal number of fans from their opposition. They try to generate enthusiasm throughout the game, but the 14,000 seats around them seem to swallow up their cheers. Actually, the height of fan enthusiasm is the Fin Fever kickoff rally at the beginning of the season. This is followed by a season-opening game in the on-campus gym... the only game held on campus all season.
Jacksonville Veterans Memorial has a 2,000-car parking deck adjacent to it; however, due to the low attendance, it is not open for JU games. You can park for free in surface Lot Z, which is located just down the street. Jacksonville has numerous bridges crossing the St. John's River, which can be a traffic bottleneck for a larger game, such as UNF. However, for a majority of the Dolphins games, it is a quick in/out to and from the arena. The concourses inside the arena are wide and seating is very comfortable.
Tickets to Jacksonville University basketball games are $10, which is very reasonable. The parking at games is free, but the concession prices are very high for what you get. Unless you are a JU student or a friend or family member, you may find your entertainment dollar spent better elsewhere.
The Jacksonville Sports Hall of Fame is located in the foyer of the arena. It offers exhibits on the Gator/ Taxslayer Bowl, the annual Georgia/Florida football game and a salute to athletes who have played for Jacksonville area teams, including the Jaguars, Dolphins, Suns and Sharks.
Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena is a very modern, attractive arena which offers excellent facilities. It has hosted NCAA basketball tournament games and Arena Football, as well as semi-pro basketball and lacrosse. The acoustics of the building are excellent, as it hosts a majority of the major indoor music concerts in the Jacksonville area. However, its size really makes it apparent how small the Jacksonville University basketball program has become.
It is a shame that basketball is exiled to an off-campus arena, as the other Jacksonville University sports (soccer, baseball) occur on campus. Even though Swisher Gym holds only 1,500 fans, it provides a much more intimate setting for a game and would attract much more walk-in traffic from the student body.
Member Review by StPeteRays
I've been to a few professional-grade arenas in my life, most notably the Wells Fargo Center, Amway Center, and Tampa Bay Times Forum. These arenas are built on grand scales as they're meant to be the main, versatile arena for their respective metropolitan areas, able to host both hockey and monster truck rallies, as well as the occasional Miley Cyrus concert and the circus (sometimes, those are one-in-the-same). They all usually have the same distinguishing features: large upper decks, concourses that wrap around the entire building, and enough concession stands to make you 10 pounds heavier before you leave.
The Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena has none of the above.
Don't get me wrong, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it did throw me off that these things which I've taken for granted to appear in any building billing itself as the city's main indoor venue were quite visibly missing. Though, after further research, it makes sense - at least for the horseshoe upper-deck that doesn't have any west-side access - why it was built as such. Jacksonville may be the largest city in Florida, but one of the smaller metro areas in the state. How is that possible?
Back in 1968, Duval County and Jacksonville decided to merge into one entity (a few small already-incorporated cities were exempt), so the state's largest city and the country's 13th-largest city, as well as largest-by-area city, was formed. Because the surrounding counties are sparsely populated, however, the metro area is actually smaller than that of even Austin, TX; Hampton Roads (Virginia Beach/Norfolk), VA; Providence, RI; and Las Vegas, the four largest metros with no sports in the "Big 4" leagues. Thus, a full-sized arena really wasn't warranted when it was built. Its size doesn't necessarily make it inferior, just more of a perfect metaphor for the eccentricity that is Jacksonville. The building itself, however, is another matter.
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