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  • Joe Molski

Heritage Bank Center – Cincinnati Cyclones

Photos by Joe Molski and Marc Viquez, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.43

Heritage Bank Center 100 Broadway St Cincinnati, OH 45202

Year Opened: 1975

Capacity: 14,453


A Cyclone Along the Banks of the Ohio River

Sitting right along the banks of the mighty Ohio River is the Heritage Bank Center. It opened in September 1975 as the Riverfront Coliseum; the indoor arena sits next to Great American Ballpark in downtown Cincinnati. The arena has a capacity of 17,556, and the most current renovations took place in 1997 and cost $14.7 million. The main tenant is the Cincinnati Cyclones, but the building has played host to numerous events. The Crosstown Shootout, Conference USA men’s basketball tournament, NCAA men’s and women’s March Madness tournaments, NCAA Frozen Four, concerts, and the World Choir Games in 2012.

The originally planned tenant for the brand-new arena was supposed to be an NHL franchise. A group headed by Bill DeWitt, Jr. attempted to lure a team to the building but was rejected. Cincinnati would place an expansion franchise in the World Hockey Association and call it the Stingers; the team would play from 1975-1979 and feature future NHL Hall of Famers Mike Gartner and Mark Messier, both baby-faced teenagers at the time. Cincinnati was denied again when the WHA merged with the NHL in 1979. The Stingers played one more year in the minor-league Central Hockey League before folding after 33 games during the 1979/80 season.

There have been three separate Cyclones franchises that began with the expansion club in 1990 in the East Coast Hockey League. The club jumped up a level to the International Hockey League in 1992 but folded with the league in 2001. The current club rejoined the ECHL the following season and, except the 2004-2006 seasons, have been mainstays at the Heritage Bank Center.

Food & Beverage 2

A detail that has been overlooked by ownership is the concession areas. Many of the same food stands remain from when I visited this arena as a kid several years ago. The signage is outdated and could use an upgrade. Most were open, but a few on the short ends of the rink were closed. This particular night happened to be a $1 beer night, so long lines at stands were dedicated only to alcohol sales. You could get anything from moonshine to a cocktail. Beers included were Miller Lite, Angry Orchard, Blue Moon, PBR, and other local breweries like 50 West. Wine in a can and also tropical mocktails were available at one vendor.

There were classic brands of the area that included Donatos Pizza, Graeter’s Ice Cream, and Skyline Chili. They offered the typical concession stand food, minus hot dogs, which I found interesting. Pizza by the slice is $4.50, and a burger/chicken finger combo is $8.50. RC Cola products are available at the concessions. The best deal is the $10 bottomless popcorn, which you could easily make your money’s worth.

Atmosphere 4

The building’s cramped concourse was the main reason why the atmosphere was not awarded 5 points. The hallways are very narrow, which was a sign of the times when the arena was constructed. They were enlarged during the 1997 renovations, but they will have to be expanded again at some point to make it easier to navigate for visitors.

Outside of this, the atmosphere was incredible. The Cyclones have a fantastic pregame player introduction and one of the better ones in the ECHL. An anthem from a local high school got a tremendous roar from the crowd. A great noise was only subdued by an early visitors’ goal against the run of play. After this, the crowd started to get back into the game with some shots from the home team. Cheering and chants during the game made it feel like a playoff game, not an early-season Thursday night tilt.

Bringing your dogs to the ice was also part of the promotion tonight. Many dog-themed snacks and treats around the stadium for the furry friends. Barking could be heard throughout the game.

Neighborhood 3

While it is downtown, it is quite a walk from the bustling Central Business District and Over-the-Rhine neighborhoods. The stadium sits next to Great American Ballpark and is within walkable distance of The Banks and northern Kentucky. Plenty of spots to eat at the Banks, like Holy Grail and Condado tacos. There are many breweries, and one of my favorite pizza spots, Dewey’s Pizza across the river at Newport on the Levee. Cold Stone Creamery is also just across the river.

Fans 5

Nothing beats the promotions served up by minor league hockey teams, and tonight was Pucks for Pugs. Dog owners could bring their best friends to the game. The sounds of the barking dogs added to that unique atmosphere of the night. Fans were excited at the start with a terrific pre-game show on the ice and followed by player introductions to hype up the crowd. An early goal from visitors took a lot out of the fans, but a solid performance and win cured all blues.

Thanks to the terrific Cyclones App – I got a free hat just from downloading it onto my phone. There is also a lot of gear available to purchase at the game. You could see a lot of hometown sweaters, some from The Avengers and Spongebob Square Pants-themed nights (another minor league hockey promotion). One thing to note, earlier in the day, a trade sent Jack Eichel to the Vegas Golden Knights from the Buffalo Sabres. I found an Eichel sweater in the stands.

Access 3

The parking garage is attached to the arena and charged $10. There are a couple of outside lots around the stadium that are also for $10. You could also park in northern Kentucky and walk across the Purple People’s Bridge to get to the stadium and take in the beautiful Ohio River and Cincinnati skyline. The narrow hallways around the concourse are a negative aspect of the arena, especially during COVID times.

Return on Investment 4

The cost of a ticket is $20 for a game, and you might not spend more than $35 total. The parking for $10 may seem steep, but you are only about 100 feet from the arena. The game was of high quality. Multiple goals, hits, and fights meant plenty of action. The food was reasonably priced, and the beer was $1. These are hard to beat.

Extras 3

Head Coach Jason Payne is the only African-American ice hockey head coach in all professional hockey. The All-Access Bar & Grill is located on the 5th floor (Suite Level) of the arena but was closed during our visit. When operational, fans get a marvelous birdseye view of the ice along with a full-service bar and restaurant.

Final Thoughts

The arena is perfect for ice hockey, but it does need some care on the concourses and outside. The game was entertaining, and the food and drinks were reasonably priced. The Cyclones market their games for anyone, and I think anyone would have a great night at Heritage Bank Center.

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