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  • Writer's pictureMarc Viquez

Carver Arena – Bradley Braves

Photos by Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71

Carver Arena 201 SW Jefferson St Peoria, IL 61602

Year Opened: 1982

Capacity: 11,442


A Brave New World for Bradley

The Carver Arena is part of the Peoria Civic Center which is also home to a theater, meeting halls, and an exhibit hall in downtown Peoria, Illinois. The idea for a civic center in Peoria goes back to the 1930s but it was not until the early 1970s that the concept picked up steam. City leaders envisioned a building that would serve as “the economic development for downtown revitalization.”

Construction began in 1979 and on September 11, 1982, Kenny Rogers opened up the arena with a concert. The Bradley Braves basketball program would soon follow The Gambler with its first game a little over two months later and have made the 11,442 capacity arena its home in the Missouri Valley Conference.

The Braves have called three other buildings home since its first college hoops team took the court in 1902 and the university has made eight appearances in the NCAA Tournament with two runner-up finishes in 1950 and 1954. In 2006, the team reached the Sweet 16 for the fourth time in school history making national headlines along the way.

Food & Beverage 4

There are two large concession stands on both ends of the Carver Arena that offer an impressive amount of tasty options. Fans can expect the regular items of hot dogs, nachos, and popcorn, but tenderloin sandwiches, pork sandwiches, and pulled pork barbecue nachos are also available.

Beverages include Coca-Cola products and fans can also purchase beer, wine, and spirits at multiple stands throughout the building. A pint of domestic draft beer is $7 and that includes Alaskan Amber, a rare find at most buildings in the Midwest.

The Spotted Cow stand offers freshly made ice cream sundaes and waffle cones in 12 different varieties.

Atmosphere 4

The Carver Arena is an older facility that features a narrow main concourse, darkened sections of the seating bowl, and jammed concourses during halftime. However, there is plenty of college game day action that includes a small student section, a larger college band, cheerleaders, and player introductions. Once the tip off is over, all the atmosphere that fans need from their seat is on the basketball court.

The arena’s design makes for some impressive acoustics from the Bradley faithful who pack the place in large numbers. In fact, the old place still holds up pretty well as a college basketball venue. One section of the building displays Bradley banners that include conference and NCAA Tournament banners, while the other side is distinguished by the Rivermen banners.

A giant video board hangs above the center court and one side offers the Braves Club for members to enjoy courtside tabletop seating and beverages from underneath the basket. One side of the arena offers giant Bradley Braves signage that includes champion banners from the Final Four Finalist teams of 1950 and 1954.

The Braves also have a mascot named Kaboom! that is modeled after one of the four gargoyles sitting atop the Hayden-Clark Alumni Center and watching over campus The interesting looking mascot rides onto the court on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle at the start of the game and excites the crowd with the cheerleaders at breaks in the action.

The lower seating bowl provides nice views of the game that put fans almost within touching distance of the players. There is even courtside seating that is within inches of the action. The band and student section are situated behind one end of the court–the band is rather larger with the student section a bit smaller than expected.

The arena is also a bit darkened for Braves games compared to hockey games, perhaps this adds to the ambiance of the building and dampens out the seats on the top rows of the arena. However, the fan base is loud enough and creates an impressive atmosphere that a lack of lighting could ever dissipate.

Neighborhood 4

The Carver Arena is located a few blocks north of the Peoria Warehouse Historic District; the district is home to 68 buildings that were built from the 1880s to the 1920s and are home to many restaurants and bars. The location is also situated along the Peoria Lake.

A few options include Thyme Kitchen & Craft Beer, The Blue Duck Barbecue Tavern, and Kelleher’s Irish Pub & Eatery. These places are usually packed with fans after weekend games and anyone of them would be worth the time to have dinner and drinks.

The Rhodell Brewery and Bearded Owl Brewery are two local craft beer spots in the district and Sugar Wood-Fire Bistro has some of the best pizzas in town. A few miles north of downtown is Knuckles Pizza that specializes in Quad City-style pizza that is slightly different than your typical pizza.

Fans 4

There is a passionate group of fans that make a Bradley’s Braves game declare home court advantage for any visitor. The day of our game there was close to 8,000 people in the arena and it felt like it could have been a lot more, since the applause and cheering echo vibrantly throughout the game. These are die-hard people that enjoy winning and are focused on what’s going on on the court.

Access 3

The Carver Arena is located inside of the Peoria Civic Center and is just a few miles south of I-74. The downtown setting can get a bit busy close to the game. It is recommended to arrive slightly early to avoid downtown congestion, but even that runs much smoother compared to larger metropolises.

Once fans enter the Great Hall of the Peoria Civic Center, fans have to go through a somewhat elaborate security screening that can be somewhat congested. However, once inside the wraparound concourse provides everything a fan needs and getting to and from your seats is rather simple with clearly marked signs throughout the seating bowl.

Return on Investment 4

The price of a ticket for Braves games begin at $8, a very reasonable price to enjoy a mid-major college program. The prices then move up to $17, $25, and $60. The Bradley program has a faithful audience that enjoys a winning team and will come out in droves for big games, especially its main rival down the road on I-74 at Illinois State University.

Concession prices are reasonable and fall in line with other facilities in the conference, but it’s one of a few where you can buy alcoholic beverages. The price to park is $10 in the main lot, but other lots across the street can be found for as low as $5 a car.

Extras 3

The Carver Arena receives a point for its downtown location near the baseball stadium and the riverfront district that offers a few nice places to eat and drink before and after the game.

The Carver Arena fans do a fantastic job providing a great game day atmosphere, especially when the Braves are winning and challenging for a top spot in the Missouri Valley Conference.

The Carver Arena’s walls are decorated with tons of history concerning the Bradley basketball program from historical beginnings, former players, team highlights by the decade, and retired jersey numbers that include Hersey Hawkins who went on to a 13 year NBA career. Also, did you know that Kirby Puckett played college baseball at Bradley? Yes, his picture is also on the mural.

Final Thoughts

A pleasant surprise can be found at a Bradley Braves game at the Carver Arena. The fans make it an enjoyable experience that has all the fixings of a college hoops venue. The prices are low, the neighborhood enjoyable, and the fans are knowledgeable. What more can you ask for?

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