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Official Review by Andy Mantsch, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Located just north of downtown Asheville in the foothills of the Appalachians, UNC-Asheville is a university with under 4,000 undergraduates and a beautiful setting. The Kimmel Center sits on top of a hill at the heart of the North Carolina Center for Health and Wellness. Opened in 2011 and named after local businessman Joe Kimmel, the home of the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs is a gem of a small arena in a gem of a small town. The arena is a multipurpose venue that hosts a variety of events ranging from gymnastics to concerts. But most of all, it's a beautiful venue for low-level Division I basketball.
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".
There are concession stands at the corners of the concourse that offer some basic but good food options, with some unique local options on the concourse, as well.
Standard concession stands offer hot dogs ($2.50), hot pretzels with cheese ($4), nachos ($4), Pizza Hut pizza ($4.00) and Lucille's BBQ pork sandwiches ($4), as well as snacks like popcorn, candy, fruit and chips all for under $2. There is also a stand for Zaxby's (a southern fast food delicacy) that offers a variety of options for under $5. But potentially the most interesting option is for dessert. The Hop Ice Cream Cafe sells local ice cream, with different unique flavors every game (including Unicorn Poop) and even uses proceeds for promotions for the university.
Drinks at Kimmel Arena include Pepsi products and Gatorade, both $3. Alcohol is not available here.
I'd definitely recommend grabbing a Lucille's BBQ sandwich for dinner, but save room! You've definitely got to have some local ice cream to wash it down.
Kimmel Arena is not a large venue full of tradition, but it's a beautiful small school arena with a lot of shiny new character.
The arena consists of a raised concourse ringing a bowl of blue seats with seat backs. There's truly not an uncomfortable seat or a bad view anywhere in the arena. You can even stand on the concourse for an excellent view. A scoreboard hangs above mid-court, and video boards are opposite each other at two corners of the court. Everything is close to the court and the venue feels new and intimate. A Bulldog Hall Of Fame and a VIP "Circle Of Champions" are in one corner, adding some tradition and pride to the venue. And outside the windows are spectacular views of mountains in all directions.
The student section at one end of the court is uncoordinated but lively and a very engaged band plays behind the other baseline. A quite literal "cheer leader" with a mic gets the crowd fired up and starts chants. T-shirts are flung into the crowd at key times throughout the game. All of it is fairly standard, but still brings the fun energy of a solid college basketball venue.
All of the seats have seatbacks and are close to the court, so when in doubt, pick a seat on the sideline and enjoy the game.
Asheville is the perfect small town to go with a small venue. One of the most well-kept secrets in the country, Asheville is a town that has a lot to offer.
Food in Asheville tends to be local and delicious. It's hard to narrow down to just a few restaurant options in a town with such plentiful options. Whether it be Bouchon for a locally sourced French menu, Nine Mile for Caribbean food and craft beer or the Asheville Brewing Company for local craft beer and high quality bar food, you can't really go wrong with food or craft beer options in this town.
On top of that, Asheville is full of top notch attractions to visit. The obvious choice is the Biltmore Estate to tour the historic home and grounds, but the North Carolina Arboretum, Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest are just a few of the many sites in the area. Asheville also has a great music scene, so check out concert venues like the Orange Peel for schedules.
Because there is so much to see and do in the city, downtown Asheville is the place to stay to be close to food and drink. The Haywood Park hotel is right downtown and consistently rates highly, but there are many options. If the Biltmore is what interests you, check out the Residences at the Biltmore.
While there are some very passionate and knowledgeable fans at a UNC Asheville game, they don't tend to show up in large numbers.
Average attendance ranges in the 1,500-2,000 area, which is not particularly impressive for the Big South. The arena is small enough that it doesn't feel empty, but the numbers aren't there, comparatively.
The crowd that is there tends to be very engaged and seemed to know all of the players by first name or even nicknames. What they lack in numbers, they make up for in engagement and knowledge. The students are relatively loud, and the band adds a degree of enthusiasm. Overall, it's not a bad experience.
Asheville is located at the intersection of I-40 and I-26 making it easy to reach from any direction.
There is a regional airport in Asheville, with Charlotte a couple hours away easily the largest airport in the area.
Parking is free and easy around the stadium, but the hills can make for some difficult walks if you don't arrive early enough to park in the garage near the gate. Traffic flows pretty easily up and down the hill, so there aren't really any challenges there.
Most of the parking funnels into one gate, and there can be a bit of a line at the two available ticket windows. But in general, the venue isn't crowded, so it won't take long.
Once inside, the concourse is wide, easy to navigate and affords views of the court from almost everywhere. Restrooms are located at either end of the court and are large enough to accommodate the crowds.
For a nice venue and a solid basketball experience, you won't spend much here.
If you buy tickets online in advance, prices vary, but can start as low as $4. Game day tickets at the gate will range up to $17. Throw in free parking and inexpensive food, and it's a cheap trip for a nice new stadium and quality basketball.
There are definitely a few extras here worth mentioning. The Hall Of Fame in the corner opposite the main entrance gives you a chance to read up on Bulldog history. Across from that is the VIP Circle Of Champions, where you'll find supporters of the program hanging out before tip. The mountain views and the design of the arena with the Blue Ridge mountain theme is an added touch that adds to the pleasing aesthetic.
UNC Asheville is a solid place to catch a basketball game and offers a great town to visit. A trip here is well worth a long weekend or even more to enjoy the sites and the Bulldogs.
Member Review by Norm
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.
Member Review by ianmccor on Apr 19, 2014
A fantastic new venue for Big South basketball. Now only if their students started to care...
77 Coxe Ave
Asheville, NC 28801