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Official Review by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
One of the original members of the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL), the Huntsville Havoc has called Alabama’s Rocket City home since 2004. Fittingly, the team plays its games at the Von Braun Center (VBC) complex in downtown Huntsville. More specifically, they play in the Propst Arena at the VBC, and their home ice is known as Breland Homes Ice (as part of a corporate sponsorship naming rights agreement); for simplicity’s sake we will refer to the facility as Propst Arena.
The first few years of the Havoc’s existence were rough, as the team finished in the lower half of the league through 2007. Beginning with the 2008-2009 season, the Havoc’s fortunes have risen, and they won the President’s Cup in 2010. Since then they have finished in the top portion of the league and made the playoffs each year.
Propst Arena has hosted the team since its creation. Built in 1975 as a part of the Von Braun Center, the arena underwent a massive renovation in 2010, which included changing the façade of the building with a modern glass frontage to take advantage of the views created by the beautiful Big Springs Park and its lake. Additional inside work added a much more spacious lobby, additional concession space, as well as VIP suites. The Propst Arena holds 6,600 fans within its hockey configuration and has recently added two high definition LED video boards to improve the fan experience.
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".
Unlike most multi-purpose facilities, Propst Arena features a number of food-specific stands rather than a generic series of concession stands. Specialized stands feature pizza, Mexican food selections, a deli-style stand, a sit down pub, a BBQ themed stand, in addition to the usual sports fare. Pricing can vary due to the specialized nature of a stand. The deli sandwiches and panini go for $7, while the Mexican themed site offers tacos for $4, nachos for $6, and beef nachos for $8. The more generic sports stands feature hot dogs ($3.50), hamburgers ($5.50), chicken fingers ($7) and sodas range from $3-$6 depending on size.
Several concession stands you won't want to miss are the DHI Local Spots, which sell only craft brews from the Madison County area. There are eight breweries making more than 30 different beers in Madison County, which is why Huntsville considers itself the brew capital of Alabama. The 16 oz. beers go for $6, while a 24 oz. cup will cost you $8.
Propst Arena is very fan friendly after you have made your purchase, as all seats in the facility feature cup holders. Seats immediately adjacent to the rink feature great views of the action, but also café-type tables, rather the typical rows of seats. This allows fans to enjoy their food in a convenient manner and promotes a very social atmosphere amongst those lucky enough to hold rink-side seats.
The Propst Arena is a part of the Von Braun Center, the premiere entertainment and special event center in Northern Alabama. Even though it hosts everything from circuses to concerts, Propst seems most at home as a hockey facility. In addition to the Havoc, the arena is home ice for the University of Alabama-Huntsville hockey program as well. The seating bowl features café-like tables with seats at rink level, theatre type seats one level higher, and then general admission seating at a third tier. All seats feature unobstructed views of the ice.
When you enter the arena, you immediately realize this is a first class facility. The outer lobby features the team store, a pub style restaurant, a children's play area and a special events area. The lobby is two stories tall with one wall made completely of glass, offering great views of Big Springs Lake and Park.
The outer concourses feature the wide selection of concession stands. Once you enter the seating area, one of the first things you will notice are the two LED HD scoreboards at each end of the ice. You will also hear game related announcements on the state of the art sound system.
The VBC is located at ground zero for downtown Huntsville, as the town was founded in 1805 at the Big Springs located adjacent to the Center. Huntsville was the first incorporated town in Alabama and now has the fourth largest population in the state. Unlike many southern cities, downtown Huntsville is a vibrant place to be on weekends, with plenty of festivals, a lively arts community and lots of historic homes. Because Huntsville was captured without a fight during the Civil War, it avoided the mass destruction suffered by many other cities like Charleston, Nashville, and Chattanooga. This has resulted in one of the largest antebellum districts in the South. But Huntsville is also the Rocket City and has a large presence in the aerospace industry. The world famous Huntsville Air and Space Museum is located just four miles southwest of the city.
Since the VBC serves as the major convention and special event center in the region, there are many fine hotels and restaurants located nearby. Amongst the wining and dining choices located near the VBC are Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, Pano e Vino Pizzeria at the Huntsville Museum of Art, the Below the Radar Brewhouse, and Humphrey's Bar and Grill which sells some of the finest BBQ in Alabama. There are plenty of options for pre and post game entertainment in Huntsville.
Huntsville Havoc fans arrive early, love to meet and greet before the game, yell their lungs out during the game yet are friendly and outgoing to fans from the visiting team. They come dressed in the bright red colors of the Havoc. They refer to the players on a first name basis, much as you would see a parent do at their child's game.
The demographics of the Havoc fan base span several age groups. Youth hockey is very popular in Huntsville and the team salutes a local team at each game. They often put on a short exhibition game between periods. There is also a large number of aerospace engineers who relocated to the Huntsville during the height of the Space Age in the 60's and 70's. Now retired, these former northerners are big fans of the sport they grew up playing. Huntsville still has a sizable military presence with two bases nearby. The team reaches out to the armed forces by offering frequent Military Appreciation events.
The Huntsville Havoc are the only professional sports club left in Huntsville, with the recent departure of the Huntsville Stars minor league baseball team to become the Biloxi Shuckers. By contrast, the Havoc organization is one of the most successful franchises in the SPHL, and enjoys a very supportive fan base.
The Von Braun Center is centrally located in the downtown area of Huntsville and is easily reached via I-165 or Highway 431 and then follow the directional signs found along the major thoroughfares.
Huntsville is located just 90 minutes from Birmingham, two hours from Nashville, or three and a half hours from Memphis or Atlanta, with easy access via multiple interstates.
The VBC is a massive facility with several parking lots, with the closest lot to the arena being the P-2 or South Hall Parking Garage. From Monroe Street simply turn at Pollard Street which will take you directly to the P-2 facility. If you are coming from out of town, you might choose to stay at either the Embassy Suites or Holiday Inn hotels, which are directly across Monroe Street from the VBC. This saves you the cost of event parking and also allows you to miss the post game traffic.
Tickets to a Havoc game range from $10- $25 depending on what level of seating you desire. With the $25 seating you get the unique experience of watching the game from your café table with ushers taking your food and drink orders, something that is rare in other minor league arenas. The concessions are reasonably priced and offer a diversity of foods not typically found in a smaller market. Parking is $5 as the lots around the Von Braun Center are owned by the city, not the team. The popularity of the nearby US Air and Space Center results in a large selection of moderately priced hotels in the area near Propst Arena.
There are multiple reasons to plan a weekend trip to the Huntsville area for a Havoc game. You can visit the top tourist attraction in the state, the US Air and Space Museum, in the morning and catch a Havoc game in the afternoon or evening. Huntsville is proud to proclaim itself as the Brew Capital of Alabama, as there are eight craft breweries in Madison County alone. There are two beer festivals on an annual basis; the Rocket City Brewfest and the Huntsville Beer Festival. The Bridge Street Shopping District is also less than a mile from the VBC.
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