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Official Review by Brian Wilmer, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Charlotte, North Carolina, is a city with nearly 200 neighborhoods. There's Dilworth, NoDa (North Davidson), Ballantyne and seemingly another every mile around the Queen City. If you look in the heart of the Myers Park neighborhood, you'll notice one of Charlotte's academic and architectural gems.
Queens University of Charlotte is a 150-plus year old institution that moved to its current digs just over a century ago. The historic campus now houses some 2,000-plus students, offering a challenging academic experience in a unique environment.
Queens' athletics programs, known as the Royals, compete at the NCAA Division II level. The school's basketball programs play in the on-campus Levine Center, one of two primary athletics facilities utilized by the institution. That facility took the place of Ovens Gymnasium (named for legendary Charlotte resident David Ovens), opening in 2013 with the gymnasium, a natatorium, a walking track and workout area. The university has achieved its goal, having opened a beautiful, modern facility that somehow seamlessly fits in with its storied surroundings.
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There is a single concession stand just to the left as you enter the gymnasium, and you'll find many of your favorites welcoming you on the menu board. Popcorn ($2.75 for a cup, $4 for a tub), nachos and cheese (the "make-your-own" variety, $2.75), chips or peanuts ($1.50), Cracker Jack ($2.25), energy bars ($2.50), cotton candy ($1) and numerous other snack options get you started. Beef hot dogs ($3), soft pretzels ($2.50), candy, gum and Airheads will also help knock out your cravings.
Beverages are Coca-Cola products, and are served in bottles. Bottled water, Powerade and sodas are all $2.25. If you're a fan of diet sodas, Coke Zero and Cherry Coke Zero are also available, which is a nice respite from the far-too-common Diet Coke.
The stand takes credit cards, which not all points of sale in the Levine Center do -- more on that in a bit, however.
To say that this gym is unique is likely an understatement. The gym is clearly a part of a larger development, but also seems to effectively fit the portion of the building in which it is placed.
The gym is a mixture of backless bleacher seating and chairbacks, with the blue bleachers occasionally interrupted by yellow seats that help spell "QUEENS" on one side and "ROYALS" on the other. Oddly, the bleachers offer cupholders beside each seat, while the fixed seats do not. The top row of bleachers allow patrons to lean back against the glass "railing," allowing for a bit of back support.
Since the seats do not rise too high off the playing surface, there is technically not a bad seat in the house. The floor is well-lit, making for a rather clear viewing experience. However, the seats are set back from the playing floor a bit, which makes things feel a bit more distant. This also makes the sound of the PA system echo a bit, making announcements tough to hear. The lone exception to this comes in the form of a few bleacher seats notched into cutouts behind each basket. These also provide the only views available behind either basket. There are walls behind each basket, which disguise the concourses and other portions of the building.
One of those walls houses a video board, which also offers some basic statistical information about the five players currently on the floor for each team, along with the game's current score and time remaining. The team also plays an introductory video before the lineups are announced, which helps get fans in the mood for a Royals contest. The problem with the board's placement is that it is invisible to a good third of the seats, due to the viewing angle. This leaves fans sitting near this wall with a basic auxiliary scoreboard on the opposite wall. This can leave one feeling somewhat deprived of a key part of the experience.
The experience at Queens is very basketball-forward. There are few interruptions to the action on the floor, few zany promotions and virtually none of the mind-numbing noise one might hear at a Division I basketball game. Division II sports' motto is "I Chose Division II," and fans attending a game in the South Atlantic Conference (of which Queens is a member) also make the conscious choice to attend a Division II event. Also, should you need a reminder of the Royals' fellow SAC members, their logos are etched along the glass above the basket opposite the video board.
Myers Park offers a very pretty, walkable neighborhood that would be worthy of just a day's exploration by itself. There is a nice mixture of historic homes and effectively integrated businesses that accentuate the environment. Queens fits in quite well among the combination residential and business buildings surrounding it, existing across the street from both.
Charlotte's famed Uptown district is also nearby, offering nearly every type of dining, entertainment and nightlife available in Charlotte within ten minutes' drive of the university. Hotels, museums, concert venues, restaurants, and even the Carolina Panthers and Charlotte Hornets help make for a nice weekend excursion.
If you'd rather avoid Uptown, there are a number of other neighborhoods nearby, which provide every type of experience from heavy residential to heavy business, and everything in-between.
The game we attended was during a holiday break, so attendance was down a bit. This also meant that the cheerleaders and mascot (Rex, a lion) were not in attendance. This said, Queens is not a school that commonly sports sellouts. The fans who do attend, though, make quite a bit of noise and stay involved from beginning to end. The proximity of the other league schools also allows their fans to travel to Charlotte and cheer on their teams. They also bring signs and other props to display throughout the game.
Don't expect a raucous atmosphere like Davidson or Charlotte just up the road, but you will find a fun and friendly atmosphere at a Queens game.
With Queens' proximity to a residential area, parking is -- as one might expect -- a bit limited. This is more of an issue when school is in session. Parking is available on the street outside the arena, but keep in mind that the streets are older and a bit narrow. There are also signs around the gym that point to event parking. The easiest recommendation might be to park in the North Deck, when possible. The entrance to the deck is actually behind the gym, but there is a short walk to the front of the building.
Once inside, you will be greeted by a beautiful and modern lobby. The main desk in the lobby sells tickets -- cash-only -- with doors to either side that take fans into the gym area. There is a wide concourse all the way around, but the concourse rings the top of the seating bowl. Fans with crutches or other accessibility concerns can hang out along the glass wall atop the seats, but will find challenges in getting closer to the floor.
Lines can form a bit at the concession stand, but the concourse is still plenty wide. Those moments aside, it is easy to move around the arena.
Restrooms are along the concourse, almost directly behind the video board. The facilities are extremely clean and modern, and should be more than adequate for any Royals contest.
Queens games are $6 to attend, with all seats being general admission. Children (17 and below), seniors (60 and above) and students from other colleges (with valid identification) all get a two-dollar price break at the gate. Children three and under are admitted free.
Fans are treated to a top notch basketball team, a soda and a hot dog for just over $10. It is nearly impossible to beat this level of sporting value in the Charlotte area.
Queens has strategically placed water fountains around the arena, and alongside those water fountains are placed bottle fillers. These handy little devices allow fans to stock up on a beverage for the handy little cost of...well, nothing.
For fans seeking that latest piece of Royals gear, Queens has you covered. A small team store, called The Roar Store, is on the concourse next to the concession stand. A nice selection of t-shirts and other university gear can be found just steps from your seat.
The university offers a small gathering area outside the gym, fully stocked with Adirondack chairs. This is a nice addition for fans who want to sit and talk, or just enjoy Charlotte's often-beautiful weather.
If you look to the right after exiting the second set of doors to the gym, the school's trophy case is on display. This is a nice nod to the athletic history at Queens.
Perhaps the most important portion of the Levine Center can be found near the floor. Kelton's Korner is marked by a sign hanging on the wall, and the section honors former student-athlete Griffin Kelton. Kelton's story was told in this article, offering a first-person account mixed with kind words from those who knew him. Kelton passed in 2015, but will always be remembered at Royals games.
It should always be a life's goal to step outside one's comfort zone. This should be the case with athletics, as well. Take a break from the North Carolinas and Dukes of the world, and spend a day in one of Charlotte's most storied neighborhoods. You'll be treated to a fun afternoon out, and with the money you save at the box office, you can enjoy all of what one of the Southeast's finest cities has to offer.
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201 S McDowell St
Charlotte, NC 28204