Photos by Will Halpern, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71
Kimmel Arena 1 University Heights Asheville, NC 28804
Year Opened: 2011 Capacity: 3,200
Bulldogs on the Prowl in Asheville
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains is the town of Asheville, and located just a couple of miles from downtown Asheville is the University of North Carolina at Asheville, one of sixteen schools in the University of North Carolina system. The Bulldogs began playing in the 1,100-seat Justice Center in 1963 but as the venue was approaching half a century, it was clear that a replacement would be needed. In 2011 Kimmel Arena opened in the larger Sherrill Center, and while the building hosts classrooms, fitness rooms, the N.C Department for Health and Wellness, the main attraction is the 3,200-seat Kimmel Arena.
On November 13, 2011, the arena opened in style as Asheville native and North Carolina Men’s Basketball coach Roy Williams brought his number one-ranked Tar Heels to christen the Bulldog’s new digs. The sold-out building helped lay the foundation for two more NCAA Tournament appearances, including one that season, to bring their grand total to four. The program plays in a very competitive Big South Conference, and the Bulldogs look to continue to be a contender inside Kimmel.
Food & Beverage 4
At first glance, it might seem like you don’t have a lot of concession options at a Bulldogs game but there is more there than meets the eye.
The main concession stand offers a pizza slice ($4.50) and a hot pretzel ($3), while cheese nachos are five dollars and you can add jalapenos for fifty cents more, or chili for an extra buck. An all-beef hot dog will only set you back $3.50, with an extra dollar for cheese, or chili. Popcorn and movie theatre box candy are three dollars each, and while your standard chips and cotton candy are also available you can also opt for a healthier snack option with fresh fruit, trail mix, and Kind bars.
If you’re looking for something a little more unique check out the well-known southeastern chain Zaxbys where you can get chicken in many forms, like a fillet sandwich, wings, or a chicken salad sandwich. Brownies are available as well If you’re craving dessert check out the local Hop Ice Cream Cafe stand that offers eight flavors that range from the standard chocolate and vanilla, to the more unusual buttermint, and Cable Crunch, and the popular Bulldog Tracks. Mango sorbet is also offered. Wash it down with a three-dollar bottle of Pepsi or if you’re of age a six dollar domestic beer or one of three seven dollar local highland brews. Spiked seltzer is also offered for seven dollars, and for nine you can choose between a chardonnay or a pinot noir.
Kimmel Arena is a venue that almost catches you by surprise. Walking into the Sherrill Center it can easily be mistaken for an academic building, but soon after you walk down the wide hallway a basketball arena appears. The seating bowl is built down from the concourse, which saves you from climbing up to your seat initially, and with a capacity of just over three thousand, you are never far from the action on the hardwood.
Chair back seating is offered throughout the venue, with the only exception for students, and the band. There is a center-hung scoreboard, and two small video boards on two of the corner walls along with a higher-than-usual ceiling. Rocky the Bulldog, the UNC Asheville cheerleaders, and the pep band keep the fans engaged, along with promotions during breaks including some shooting contests, and T-shirt tosses.
The only reason this doesn’t get a perfect five is that UNC-Asheville is located just a little out of walking distance to all that downtown Asheville has to offer. It’s no accident that millions of people flock to Western North Carolina’s largest city.
Asheville has a large number of restaurants to check out including the very popular Tupelo Honey Cafe, which has been nationally recognized as a friendly lively place to try some delicious upscale southern cuisine. The menu features pulled pork grilled cheese, shrimp and goat cheese grits, and southern shakshuka, a southern take on the classic Mediterranean dish. For something south of the border check out Sonora Cucina Mexicana, which serves up a variety of tacos, burritos, quesadillas and appetizers, including a queso crisp, a twelve-inch flour tortilla topped with two types of cheeses and toppings, and a Sonora Dog, which is a bacon-wrapped hot dog with a variety of toppings.
Finally, if you’re looking for a place to grab a drink or some delicious unique food beyond the usual bar food, Asheville Brewing Company is where you want to go pre or post game. With the combination of several local brews, and various types of nachos, tater tots, and pizza, this is a place not to be missed.
Speaking of which, when visiting Asheville make sure to check out the Biltmore Estate, America’s largest home. It’s only ten minutes or so from downtown Asheville. The estate, built by George Vanderbilt at the end of the nineteenth century for his family, boasts 250 rooms, and an incredible garden and grounds to match. Biltmore draws over a million visitors a year. Shopping enthusiasts should stroll down Asheville’s main streets, Malaprop’s Book Store, The Chocolate Fetish shop, and the Asheville Pinball Museum where visitors can play any of over seventy-five classic arcade games including pinball of course. Another arcade to check out is Grove Arcade, which was one of the country’s first shopping malls, and home to many shops and restaurants, nearly a century later. Finally, Asheville’s mountain location allows for numerous places to hike, ski, bike, camp, and any other outdoor activity you can think of, all in the vicinity of Blue Ridge Parkway.
Asheville houses millions of tourists a year, so hotels are affordable and easy to find. Less than ten minutes from Kimmel Arena, Asheville’s Tunnel Road boasts a variety of lodging options including a Quality Inn, Country Inn and Suites, and a Best Western. There is also a Cambria and a Hotel Indigo among others in downtown if you’re looking to be more centrally located.
This is a hard score to give, as I know UNC-Asheville has a rich basketball tradition, and have seen postseason success, most notably in 2012 when the Bulldogs nearly became the first sixteen seed to knock off a one seed, when they came seven points short of upsetting the top-seeded Syracuse Orange. But the Bulldogs on this night drew just over 1,200 fans which for an arena that seats 3,200, is only a little more than a third full, and while the fans there were passionate, and engaged, and cheered on the Blue and White, a crowd of that size is very noticeable.
The Bulldogs are in the midst of a rougher-than-normal season, and the hope is that as they again become a postseason caliber team, the fans in and around Asheville will come in higher numbers to support them.
Getting to Kimmel Arena is not too difficult, and there are several parking options for people to utilize around Kimmel Arena. The best option is the Sherrill Center Parking Deck, which is adjacent to Kimmel Arena. If the deck fills up there are plenty of parking lots on street level on University Heights, but be prepared to climb some steep hills as Kimmel Arena is located on top of one. Handicap parking is available on the top of the deck next to the arena. Lines are short and walking around the concourse is very easy, as the hallways are very wide. Handicap seating is available on the top of the seating bowl.
Return on Investment 4
With a combination of affordable concession prices, tickets ranging from 9-16 dollars, and often even less on secondary ticket selling websites and free parking, attending a Bulldogs game is truly a great value. A person can spend less than twenty dollars to attend to watch a high-quality Division 1 program. That’s an incredible value.
One point for the local concession options offered, including beer, wine, and ice cream. Another point to the nice size concession shop Rocky’s Doghouse, a third point to the music played and the enthusiasm shown by the band throughout the game, and finally two points to the players signing autographs in the concourse postgame, a rarity in college basketball, and a great way to further community-player connections.
Asheville is a beautiful, vibrant town that draws millions of visitors a year. If you are one of those visitors and are craving live hoops or want an affordable night out, it is worth driving the few miles from downtown Asheville to UNC-Asheville and Kimmel Arena to watch a traditionally successful mid-major program like the Bulldogs. The team is struggling recently but getting back to their winning ways should bring more fans back to watch the Bulldogs compete for a shot at March Madness.