Kimmel Arena, on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Asheville, is a 3,800 seat multipurpose facility which is part of the larger North Carolina Center for Health & Wellness, or the Sherrill Center, which opened to the public for the first time in the fall of 2011. Seating approximately 3,200 for basketball games, Kimmel Arena is named in honor of local Asheville businessman and Bulldog supporter, Joe Kimmel. Kimmel Arena replaces the nearby 1,100 seat Justice Center, opened in 1963, as the home court for Bulldog basketball. The arena is designed to serve the UNC-Asheville community in various ways, from hosting concerts (the arena recently hosted contemporary Christian artists, Casting Crowns), speakers, conferences, and even graduation ceremonies.
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Two concession stands are located in the corners of Kimmel Arena at concourse level. Nothing "fancy" here; they are very simple and straightforward. In other words, they are serviceable and adequate for a venue of this size. I did notice a couple branded offerings, such as Bojangles, Pizza Hut, and Arby's. The prices were excellent. A slice of Pizza Hut pizza was $3, an Arby's Roast Beef sandwich was $4, and a 20oz soda will set you back $2.25. Candy and Popcorn prices were in the $1-$2 range, depending on the size of choice. I also noticed a local ice-cream vendor had a booth sat up along the concourse offering slow-churned ice cream, which looked delicious, even for a cool January evening. The ice cream prices also appeared to be lower than those found at many of your chain establishments serving similar frozen concoctions.
Combine these reasonable prices with the fact that Kimmel Arena did not appear to be located within reasonable walking distance of any off-campus dining establishments and you are left with the encouragement to grab a quick bite while at the game. This is especially true if it means holding yourself over in order to enjoy one of Asheville's many fine restaurants "" and there are many "" postgame. One item of note, if planning to partake at the concession stands, is to be prepared with cash-in-hand, as they do not accept credit/debit cards at this time.
I would term the atmosphere at Kimmel Arena as pleasant. In my opinion, the arena offers a mix in varying styles of design. There are many modern design elements throughout, from the steel clad exterior to the recessed lighting fixtures along the concourse and modern restroom accoutrements. At the same time, it is clear that homage was paid to the mountains which this school calls home. Exterior and interior design features are present that intentionally invoke the hills and valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which surround the campus and this city. In fact, simply looking out of the windows along the concourse offers up some excellent vistas of the surrounding peaks.
Those factors having been considered, the arena is still somewhat generic. I believe that much of this has to do with the facilities newness, as in that the building has simply not yet had the time to develop any real character or flavor, which so often makes college basketball venues such a blast to visit.
The Bulldog blue color scheme is visible in numerous spots through out Kimmel Arena, from the directional signage to the stylized Asheville "A" logo adorning the front of each concession stand. It is visible in the all-chairback seating itself, which is Bulldog blue in unison. Nonetheless, the predominant colors here are neutral tones of tans and grays which I suspect were used to lend an air of calmness and serenity to the pervasive mountain town vibe. All-in-all, I would say that the atmosphere at Kimmel Arena would be considered, at least on this evening, par for the course in the Big South, if not a bit above average, based on my experiences at other Big South venues. I also suspect that as the building ages and starts to develop its own character and history the atmosphere found here will only improve.
Kimmel Arena, and UNC-Asheville's campus for that matter, is located in a primarily residential area, just north of the downtown area, adjacent to Interstate 26. Just off-campus are some great local establishments, though a car would most likely be needed to experiences these places, especially if venturing from the starting point of Kimmel Arena.
Asheville is a wonderful city, one of my favorites. There is a distinctly eclectic, yet laid-back feel here. All the while, Asheville offers an emerging, progressive, and quite cosmopolitan atmosphere. In other words, Asheville is a contrast city: a mix of new and old and the area around UNC-Asheville is no exception. You will see small bungalows on nearby residential streets while just next door a home is undergoing a million-dollar renovation and expansion. Yet, somehow these opposites manage to exist, and therein is the charm of this great southern city.
Slightly fewer than 1,600 fans turned out on this evening to see the home team defeat the visiting Liberty Flames in a Big South matchup. Admittedly, I was somewhat surprised to not see more students in attendance. UNC-Asheville is a relatively small school in terms of enrollment but I believe the small student turnout most likely had to do with the fact that many students were just returning, or in the process of returning, from Christmas break. I'm sure a weeknight game would tell a different story. The crowd's enthusiasm ebbed and flowed but for the most part was fairly subdued. I attribute much of this to the fact that the Bulldogs had the game held in-check from almost the very beginning and as the game wore on, especially in the second half, the question was not if the home team would prove victorious, but by just how large a final margin. The pep band, placed just off-court on the baseline, was also small in numbers but quite good. The acoustics are excellent and the sound radiated off the single-tier seating bowl exceptionally well. The pep band did a wonderful job providing support to the Bulldogs on the court, and during the entertainment spots during break in play also. The cheerleading squad was also on hand, providing assistance in throwing out t-shirts during play stoppage, as well as Frisbees which had a coupon attached for a free bag of Doritos. The crowd especially seemed to enjoy, as they do at most venues, the chance to see themselves on the "crowd cam".
On the upper faÃ§ade of two diagonally facing corners of the arena are two decent sized video boards displaying advertisements and more, in addition to the crowd cam shots and score. Those two video boards are augmented by a center hung scoreboard, displaying all relevant game data, though not equipped with video capabilities. The crowd also seemed to really enjoy the halftime entertainment, provided courtesy of a local martial arts academy. Something about seeing a 5 year old attempt to chop a block with his bare hand never gets old. If this game had been closer, and more students had been on campus, I could definitely envision this Asheville Bulldogs crowd getting quite pumped and vocal. After all, this is a school that has seen its share of hardwood winners and has been to the NCAA tournament on a few occasions; because of that, they know good basketball when they see it.
The campus is quite hilly and for some, this could make moving about quite difficult. A parking deck is located adjacent, but it did appear to employ parking restrictions. For the non-season ticket holder, parking appeared as if it could be challenging at times, especially on the busiest of evenings. This is not to say that sufficient parking is not prevalent, it just might require a bit of a small walk, which could include an aforementioned hill or two. Just allow yourself a few extra minutes upon arrival and you should be fine. Plenty of handicap parking appeared to exist and the arena itself is completely handicap accessible, with various handicap accessible seating areas located around the top of the seating bowl. The concourse itself, which doubles as a walking track, is wide and open, making navigation very easy. The stairs are well-lit with LED lighting to guide, and handrails are readily available should you need them. One bonus feature of the seating here is that the corner seats are all angled towards the simple and classically designed court, for optimal sightlines of the action.
Tickets to a Bulldogs basketball game will set you back between $7 for a seat behind the baskets and $15 for a sideline floor seat. Asheville also offers two interesting ticket package offers. The first package, called the Big South package, includes all 18 home men's and women's Big South games for a price of $90. The second package, coined the weekend warrior package, includes all 11 men's and women's weekend games for $50. This amounts to less than $5 per game. Needless to say, a great deal to see competitive Division I college basketball.
I would have to dock a small point for the fact that it appears no ATM machines are available inside the arena, and this is a problem when the concession stands are unable to accept cards. An ATM is located outside the entrance to Kimmel Arena, but the ATM was not operational on this particular evening. Flat-screen televisions are also located at a few spots around the concourses, such as beside the concession areas, yet these screens were not operational either. I would have to give a point back for the live bulldog mascot that was present and roaming the sidelines, with handler in-tow. Rocky, as he is affectionately known, even has his own doghouse up on concourse level, just across the way from Rocky's Doghouse, the Bulldogs team store. The prices here also appeared quite reasonable, somewhat rare these days for official college gear purchased at the venue.
One intriguing tidbit is the player on the Bulldogs roster with the last name Hornsby. Keith Hornsby, a 6'4" freshman guard from Williamsburg, VA, is the son of none other than Grammy Award-winning musician Bruce Hornsby. Bruce Hornsby even played the national anthem in the arena's opening game against the North Carolina Tar Heels earlier this season. The younger Hornsby appears to be a pretty talented player and should be an important part of this Bulldogs roster in coming seasons. Besides, you never know when you might show up to Kimmel Arena and see his famous father enjoying a little Big South basketball action.
Coach Eddie Biedenbach, in his 16th season at the helm in Asheville, is the winningest coach in Big South conference history. You can be rest assured that his teams are going to be competitive on the floor as well as contributors to the community off of it. Combine that fact with a cozy new arena and very-reasonable ticket prices, a visit to Kimmel Arena to watch Bulldog basketball would make for an excellent way to spend an Asheville evening, should you be so inclined.
A fantastic new venue for Big South basketball. Now only if their students started to care...
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