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  • Writer's pictureLloyd Brown

Columbus Civic Center – Columbus River Dragons

Photos by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71

Columbus Civic Center 400 4th St. Columbus, GA 31901

Year Opened: 1996 Capacity: 7,459


River Dragons Fire Up Columbus

Columbus, Georgia has a long history of minor league ice hockey. The Columbus Cottonmouths were based in the city from 1996-2017. They played in the CHL (1996-2001), the ECHL (2001-2004), and the SPHL (2004-2017) at different points in their history. They won the CHL Championship in 1998.

The Columbus River Dragons came into existence in 2019. They are members of the Federal Prospects Hockey League (FPHL) which serves as the Class A level of professional hockey. Other teams in the FPHL are in Battle Creek, MI, Danbury, CT, Danville, IL, Winston-Salem, NC, Elmira, NY, Harrington, DE, Mentor, OH, and Port Huron, MI.

The River Dragons’ lair is the Columbus Civic Center. It was built in 1996 and has a seating capacity of 10,000 (7,459 in its hockey configuration). It also has three suites which are available on a game-by-game basis. The Dragon Party Pits are a set of group/party seating areas located at the ice level at the end of the ice where the River Dragons are on the attack twice during the game. The Civic Center features a Daktronics center-hung four-sided scoreboard. The Dragon’s Den sells team merchandise at the concourse level.

Food & Beverage 3

There are six concession stands located at the concourse level of the facility. The number of these stands that are open on a given night depends on the expected attendance. Service was very efficient the night we attended a game, so we did not encounter any lines.

The menu of items served at the stands is limited, as it offers only the usual arena staples of hot dogs, candy, popcorn, and soft drinks.

Atmosphere 4

The return of hockey to the Columbus area has brought a great deal of excitement to the River City. The team has picked up where the Cottonmouths left off and built on their legacy by offering a very impressive team that won an Ignite Cup in its second year of existence.

The staff of the team does a great job of keeping a night out at a game as entertaining as possible. They do all sorts of competitions in between the periods and Scorch and Torch can often be found roaming the stands, posing very willingly with the fans.

There is not a bad seat in the house. The concourses are wide and allow for easy navigation between periods or prior to the game.

Torch Serves as the River Dragon's Mascot, Photo by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey

Neighborhood 4

The Columbus Civic Center is in a sports complex known as the South Commons and Golden Park. The complex features the Civic Center, a stand-alone ice skating rink, a baseball park, a football stadium, and a skateboard park. Golden Park is home to a softball stadium that served as the women’s softball venue during the 1996 Olympic Games. The South Commons complex lies along the eastern shore of the Chattahoochee River, which serves as the Georgia/Alabama state border.

The Civic Center is just south of downtown Columbus. It is also just north of the Fort Benning Army base. Ft. Benning is the largest training facility for the US Army in the country. There are two military-related museums near the venue. The National Civil War Naval Museum offers a look at the various ships and ironclads used by both the Union and the Confederacy in battles to control access to the ports that were vital supply lines to both sides. This museum is located across the parking lot from the Civic Center. Fort Benning is home to the National Infantry Museum and is located a few blocks east of the Civic Center.

Downtown Columbus is located just north of the Civic Center via Veteran’s Parkway. It features the home of blues legend Ma Rainey as well as the homes of John Pemberton, the inventor of the formula for Coca-Cola, and the residence of author Carson McCullers, who wrote: “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.”

Fans 3

The River Dragons fanbase is a combination of the hardcore fans who have been involved in Columbus hockey since 1996. They are easy to identify, as it is not usual to see fans still wearing their Cottonmouth jerseys.

The team is very involved in the community, especially doing appearances in local schools and at youth hockey games taking place next door at the Columbus Ice Center. This seems to be paying off, as there are a number of teams at each game. The team recognizes the teams before the game and in between the periods. The youth teams often take the ice themselves in a very short game between the periods.

A third component of the fanbase is members of the military. Fort Benning is a close neighbor to the Civic Center and troops going through basic training frequent River Dragons when they are allowed an evening off base. Columbus is also the permanent home for many retired military personnel. Often these service members grew up in towns where hockey is more prevalent than in the South. They know the game well and enjoy seeing it played at any level.

Access 4

The Columbus Civic Center is easy to access as it is located at the intersection of two of Columbus’ main thoroughfares. It is equally easy to access from Phenix City, AL, which is just across the state line from Columbus

Directions from the North: Take I-85 South to I-185 South. Take I-185 South to Exit 1B (Victory Drive/US Highway 27 North) Turn right at end of the ramp. Continue Victory Drive until you reach the Veteran’s Parkway intersection. Turn left at this intersection into the Civic Center parking lot.

Directions from the West: From Phenix City, AL take US Highway 280 East, crossing the Chattahoochee River into Georgia. At the intersection of Victory Drive and Veteran’s Parkway turn right into the Columbus Civic Center’s parking lot.

Return on Investment 4

A night out with the River Dragons will not burn a hole in your wallet. Seats on the sides of the rink at both the 100 and 200 level cost $12. Seats at the south end of the ice cost $10. Parking at the Columbus Civic Center is free for River Dragons games. The concessions sold at the Civic Center are very reasonably priced. Hotels in the area cost less than $100 a night.

Extras 4

The team mascots are a pair of dragons named Torch and Scorch.

Present River Dragons Coach and General Manager Jerome Bechard is “Mr. Hockey” in the Columbus area. He has been a part of the Columbus hockey scene since 2004 as a player, coach, and General Manager.

The Columbus Ice Center is located next door to the Civic Center. It serves as the home ice for the youth hockey teams in the area and is also the home ice for the Auburn University club hockey team.

The River Dragons are one of the few Class A hockey teams that have a TV contract. WTVM broadcasts twenty-two games a year.

Final Thoughts

Minor league hockey has returned to the River City in the form of the Columbus River Dragons. They have already brought a great deal of excitement to Columbus as they won the Ignite Cup in only their second year of existence. The Dragon’s Lair is located alongside the Chattahoochee River at the Columbus Civic Center.

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