In Carbondale, Illinois, what is old is new again. SIU Arena, which originally opened in 1964, has a new lease on life. In 2010, Southern Illinois University completed a $29.9 million renovation that included new seating throughout the lower and upper areas, improved accessibility and entrances to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, middle handrails at all aisles, improved concessions, additional restrooms and fan amenities on the upper level, a new scoreboard and other aesthetic and functional improvements.
The biggest improvement to the 8,339 seat facility is the newly constructed atrium on the east side of the facility. Inside the atrium, which is now the main entrance to SIU Arena, fans can visit the SIU Team Store, take a stroll down memory lane with the SIU Hall of Fame, or sit back and watch the children play with the inflatable basketball goals.
Once inside the main walkway of the arena, fans are treated to painted murals of famous moments in SIU Basketball history. Inside the bowl area, all seats are either newly furnished chair backs or newly installed bleachers that are made with a soft feel and strong support behind your back.
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 and beverage at the concession stands was on par with what you will find at just about every other arena in college basketball. Both the prices and items struck me as basic and average.
If you do buy something at the concession stand, make sure you pay $4.50 for a beverage that comes with a Salukis souvenir cup. The cup is made of high quality materials and definitely makes for a good keepsake to remember SIU Arena.
If you walk around the main level, there is one stand you must check out. That stand is the "Just Nuts" stand. The smell and aroma of these sweetened nuts can be sensed throughout the entire arena. This stand definitely makes SIU Arena unique in the MVC Food & Beverage category.
The atmosphere is absolutely phenomenal inside SIU Arena. The Salukis did a good job of renovating SIU Arena so that the vast majority of the facility displayed the team's color- maroon. The Salukis also did a great job turning an arena that is now almost 50 years old into an arena that is easily one of the best in the Missouri Valley Conference.
One thing that stuck out to me was the banners displayed around the inside of the arena. Behind one corner was a "Salukis In The NBA" banner that showed all of the SIU players that have gone on to the NBA while another corner had a "Salukis In The Sweet 16" banner that showed the years that SIU made it to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen.
The main thing that you should take away from SIU Arena is that old and new can work in harmony together. SIU needed an arena that brought them into the 21st century of college basketball arenas. At the same time, they needed to retain the history, nostalgia, and memories of SIU Arena. What they came up with was a renovated SIU Arena that is no doubt a must see!
Although it's in a state of transition, the neighborhood around SIU Arena is already displaying great potential. A few years ago, SIU unveiled a plan called "Saluki Way" which called for the construction of a new football stadium (completed), construction of new classroom buildings, and construction of new dormitories to be completed in 3 Phases.
Already, the area south of SIU Arena is beginning to show how nice the surrounding area will be once completed. Just south of SIU Arena, you will find a small water fall and creek, a statue of a Saluki, and maroon painted bricks to reinforce the SIU image.
If you're looking for food and retail, you'll have to go north and past campus for these amenities. I highly recommend going down Southern Illinois Avenue if you are searching for food. Although there wasn't one restaurant that stuck out to me, I did notice a variety of affordable and unique Italian, Mexican, Chinese, and American restaurants. As far as retail goes, make sure you visit University Mall which is on State Road 13 between Carbondale and Interstate 57. Anything you want, University Mall has it.
I was impressed at how passionate the fans of SIU were given that their team is currently struggling in the MVC. If no one gave you any background information before the game, you would think that the Salukis were battling for a Final Four spot.
With the 2010 renovations, SIU Arena does a good job of keeping the crowd noise loud, the stands at near capacity, and the focus on the court. When you walk around SIU arena, you quickly realize that SIU Basketball isn't just a game, it's a way of life in Carbondale.
I'm confident that once the Salukis go back to the top of the MVC, there won't be a single ticket to be had on game day.
At first, the parking arrangement confused me as all lots on the north and west side of the arena are for those with parking passes. But if you travel to the south side of the arena, which can be easily reached by state road 51/ Southern Illinois Avenue, you will find both a parking lot for those with passes as well as a bigger parking lot for those that don't have a pass. Most importantly, the lot is free. How many other arenas have a free parking lot next to them?
Something that made my day was the event security police. As I drove around the arena, the police who were directing traffic quickly realized that I was lost and from out-of-town. They went out of their way to make sure that I found the free parking lot on the south side of SIU Arena. They also did a great job of dividing traffic up between those who had a pass and those who didn't. It's always good to be helped by arena staff both inside the venue as well as outside in the parking lot!
Not only were tickets an affordable $15, they also come with a comfy seat. Whether you are sitting in the cushioned chair backs which account for the vast majority of seating, or the newly enhanced bleachers, you will be sitting in comfort during the entire game.
Another great thing about SIU Arena is that it also serves as a great history lesson of SIU Basketball. All one has to do is visit the SIU Hall of Fame, walk around the main level of the arena, or take a look around at the banners and they will instantly be thrust into the glory of SIU basketball.
I give SIU one point for the renovations they have done to SIU Arena. As someone who values arena history and modern amenities at the same time, it means a lot to me for SIU to preserve their deep basketball history inside of this arena.
I give SIU one point for their banners of past Saluki greats. The banner that stuck out to me most was that of NBA legend Walt Frazier. I get goose bumps just looking at it inside nostalgic SIU Arena.
I give SIU one point for developing a comprehensive master plan around SIU Arena. Although I'm not a fan of McAndrew Stadium being demolished, I am impressed with the new Saluki Stadium, the new atrium attached to SIU Arena, and the easy and walkability of the campus around SIU Arena.
I give SIU one point for the look and design that they have created at SIU Arena. No matter what part of the arena you are in, you will always be surrounded by the team's maroon color and legendary photos of former and current SIU players. SIU Arena is just one of those places you have to see for yourself how great of an environment it is.
SIU Arena has always held a strong home court advantage for Southern Illinois University's basketball teams, nicknamed the Salukis. In 2010, the arena opened for the first time with its new renovations in place. What stands now is a facility with greater comfort and beauty, but without losing any energy that has made this an intimidating arena for opponents.
The arena opened in 1964, being first used for commencement for that year's graduating class. Later that year, the Salukis beat Oklahoma State in the home opener on their way to a 14-1 home record that season. Southern Illinois Saluki basketball reached its peak during a 6-year span from 2002-2007 when they competed in the NCAA tournament every season. A large part of their success must be credited to their home court advantage.
A trip to SIU Arena is a worthwhile effort, where you can catch some great basketball from the Missouri Valley Conference, observe an outstanding student section, and even get some good food during your trip.
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