Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center - Flint Firebirds
Photos by Dave Cottenie, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.86
Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center
3501 Lapeer Rd.
Flint, MI 48503
Year Opened: 1969
If you troll around the Flint Firebirds Twitter account you will be bombarded with the hashtag #BelieveInFlint. Let’s face it, right or wrong, the city of Flint, Michigan has a horrible reputation. Whether it is the reported high crime rate or the crash of the city following the closing of the auto manufacturing plants, getting people to come to Flint has been difficult at best. So when Peter Karmanos sold the Plymouth Whalers of the Ontario Hockey League to the IMS Hockey Corporation and Rolf Nilsen there were a number of eyebrows raised. IMS also owns the local arena, which has negotiated a naming rights deal with Dort Federal Credit Union, and the newly crowned Firebirds would be an interesting tennant. There are more than enough doubters when it comes to the Firebirds viability in Flint, but IMS is chugging along and they want everyone to get behind and Believe in Flint.
The Whalers took up residence in the Detroit suburb of Plymouth for 18 seasons. Unfortunately, Plymouth would provide its own set of challenges and with the purchase of Compuware Arena by USA Hockey Foundation, it was clear that a new home was needed. Peter Karmanos was clear that Chatham, Ontario was the first choice, however with no suitable arena and no civic appetite to build one, Chatham was a short conversation. Flint swooped in and kept the Michigan quota of OHL teams at two. The newly minted Firebirds would have several challenges ahead of them. The ability to convince Canadian parents to send their sons to Flint for junior hockey would be significant. Educating the Flint community on OHL hockey would be another challenge, but the Firebirds would make news that would make all of their work even more difficult. In November 2015 the Firebirds would catch the attention of the entire hockey world when after a rash firing of their head coach, John Gruden, the entire Firebirds team quit. The issues were quickly resolved and Gruden and his staff were re-hired and hockey moved on, but it was not the right kind of publicity that the Firebirds received. The Firebirds have their work cut out for them, but are doing what they can and are trying their best to get hockey fans everywhere to Believe in Flint..
Food & Beverage 4
The Flint Firebirds offer a pretty good selection of fare for the Firebirds patron.
The Dort features four main concession stands that are in the four corners of the arena concourse. Each features a pretty decent selection of hockey fare. Some items available include popcorn ($4), hot dogs ($4), polish sausage, pizza ($4), and pretzels ($4). Detroit staple, Cheli’s Chili, product of former Red Wings star Chris Chelios, is also available on its own or with a chili dog. There are also a few cheaper snack items available including cookies and chips for $2 each. A premium item that may catch your eye is the steak & cheese sandwich for $8.
Concession stands offer Pepsi products for soft drinks in two sizes ($4/$3). Bottled water and Gatorade is also available. Hot beverages available include coffee, hot chocolate and vanilla cappuccino, each for $2. Alcoholic beverages are available at dedicated stands. The beers that are available include Budweiser, Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Lite, Labatt Blue and Blue Light. If you are looking for a bit more of a craft brew experience, then you may want to try Alaskan Breweries. Both the Alaskan Amber and Freeride APA are available. Other canned alcohol options are also available.
The Firebirds have some significant work to do when it comes to atmosphere.
The age of the Dort immediately comes into play when talking about the atmosphere. With the building built in 1969, the Dort doesn’t offer too much in the way of aesthetics. A fairly non-descript building from the outside, the Dort has a brown brick exterior that has that seventies bomb-shelter kind of look to it. Upon entry the Dort does offer a fairly decent waiting area on the inside, which if nothing else, offers some shelter from the exterior elements before the gates into the arena open. The Firebirds have attempted to spruce up the waiting area with some orange and blue balloon-like balls decorating the waiting area ceiling. It does offer a bit of colour to what would otherwise be a fairly drab area. Access to the team store is available from the waiting area before the gates open. Once the gates open, the entrance to the store swaps to the door inside the arena. Inside the gates, patrons are welcomed to the main concourse, which like many other arenas in the OHL is behind the seating bowl in a open concept configuration where the ice is visible from the concourse. The ice is configured with the nets at the north and south ends of the arena. The ceiling is very low and the Firebirds have found a new videoboard that keeps the low ceilings in mind. There is not much in the way of markings for the Firebirds. There is nothing to show the franchise history from Plymouth and the Firebirds management is treating the team like it’s an expansion franchise.
Promotions are a big part of the Firebirds experience. Check out the Firebirds website for a list of promotional dates. The date of this review featured ladies night, with all ladies entering the arena being offered a carnation. Pre-game music for the Firebirds is way too loud and obnoxious at times. The Firebirds mascot patrols the arena looking for kids and enthusiastic fans. As of this writing, the Firebirds “Name the Mascot” contest has not completed and a name for the mascot has not been announced. The Firebirds also have a cheer team complete with pom-poms, which is definitely unique for junior hockey. The rest of the in-game promotions are what are to be expected for hockey at this level.
The seating in the Dort is unique to say the least. The seating bowl can be divided into two distinct areas. The upper half of the seating bowl features brand new, permanent plastic stadium seats with cup holders. The lower half of the seating bowl is on temporary risers and astonishingly features cushioned folding chairs. As with most junior hockey experiences, there is plenty of standing room behind the seating bowl which fans flock to. There does not seem to be much in the way of premium seating. The Blueline Club is in the pressbox level at the north end of the arena. The south end features a hot tub at ice level, which is a first for the OHL. If you want to see the centre-ice logo properly, you will want a seat on the west side of the arena. With the small capacity of the Dort, the best seats are in the upper half of the seating bowl. One or two rows from the top will give you a great view.
With the poor reputation that Flint has, it’s a pretty good idea to know where you are going and what you are doing.
Around the Dort there are a couple of options. You may want to try the Firkin & Fox for an English style pub experience. Right on the other side of the building, Walli’s Family Restaurant may be a little more up your alley. Either way you will probably enjoy your experience. Both are located just south of Lapeer, to the east of the arena.
With the vast automotive history in Flint, an option for other entertainment may be the Buick Gallery. Located northwest of the Dort, in the Flint Cultural Center, the Buick Gallery offers a small gallery of various Buick’s of the past. There may be other areas within the Cultural Center that you could also be interested in like the Longway Planetarium or the Sloan Museum. If you are making a weekend of your trip to Flint and looking for other sporting options, you are central to a number of different cities including Saginaw, East Lansing, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Auburn Hills and Detroit. All have either junior hockey, college sports or professional sports to offer.
If you are planning on staying in Flint, the Super 8 offers a close proximity to the arena as well as the Firkin & Fox and Walli’s.
It is important to remember that at the time of this review the Flint market is still being introduced to the Ontario Hockey League brand of hockey.
The Firebirds have drawn on average 3,000 fans per game. There is definitely room to grow, but that by no means puts them at the bottom of the league attendance wise. It does put the Firebirds in the lower echelon of the OHL however. As the league and product continues to grow on the local market, and the rivalry with the Saginaw Spirit continues to grow, hopefully the attendance will continue to grow.
The fans that are in the stands are typical OHL-type fans. The are not over the top loud or supportive. They make noise when there is something to make noise about. However, there is little sense of attachment to this team yet, and the Flint market has had numerous teams come and go. Some staying power would go a long way to help the Firebirds.
Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center is not difficult to get to, but offers some challenges.
The Dort is located just south of I-69 and east of I-475, a great location for getting to and from the arena from out of town. It is a little bit of a drive from downtown Flint proper, which is north of the interstate.
Flint does have some public transportation, however it is centered around the downtown area. The transit does not go out as far as the Dort. Other transportation options must be explored if driving is not in the cards.
There is plenty of parking in the parking lots surrounding the Dort. The cost for parking is $10, which is expensive for this league. That being said, there is paid security that patrols the parking lot, so there is some piece of mind for the money that you are paying to park.
The ticketing windows are within the waiting area inside the arena. It is pretty spacious and there is enough room for those picking up tickets, buying tickets and those who are just waiting to get in.
The concourses behind the seating bowl are fairly spacious and getting around the arena is not too difficult. The washroom facilities are a little outdated and pretty cramped. Some attention needs to be paid to this area of the arena.
Return on Investment 4
OHL hockey is always a great investment. The brand of hockey is fast and exciting. Ticket prices for the Firebirds are in line with other programs in the league. With seating options at $19, $15 and $12, the opportunity for a great seat at a low cost is a distinct possibility. Try the bronze seating at $12. Concession prices are good and the parking cost is quite high. The end result is a very reasonable investment. The venue in Flint isn’t the greatest, but it is still a solid investment with ample return.
An extra mark for the classic Pontiac Firebird parked in front of the arena with a strobe light.
An extra mark for the hot tub at ice level. A unique feature for junior hockey.
The Firebirds want you to Believe in Flint. Considering the hurdles that the team has already been required to jump over have been quite significant. I would be prudent to give Flint a chance. At the very least, the team is making sufficient effort to make junior hockey work in Flint. In the meantime, keep an open mind, give the Firebirds a chance and maybe you will even #BelieveInFlint.