Sunday, April 27, 2014

Fuel have spectacular digs for fall opening

The Indy Fuel hosted their select-a-seat event for season ticketholders, as well as a public open house to show off the newly-renovated Fairgrounds Coliseum this afternoon.

The folks who came saw a spectacular venue.

We knew from the renderings two years ago that it wouldn't be your father's Coliseum -- the old, homey, comfortable barn with one level of low-slung seats, one cozy concourse and lots of high, brown walls.

But ... wow.

The Fairgrounds Coliseum seating bowl as seen from rink level.

In 1999, I walked into what was then known as Conseco Fieldhouse for its first Pacers game and said "I can't believe we have a facility this nice in our city." I had the same feeling again today upon entering the new Coliseum. It's a spectacular, modern arena in the shell of the old one.

There are some vestiges of the old rink -- the rough shape of the old seating bowl remains with the high concrete outer wall that surrounds a horse ring, the Zamboni entrance is in the same spot, and the outside walls & windows are all still intact.

In-between all of that, a beautiful rink has been built in. Each deck has its own concourse -- so the approximately 6,200 fans will be distributed across two walkways instead of one (the lower deck concourse goes all the way around. The upper deck end zone seats are served the lower concourse, the seats on the sides by an upper walkway). The concourses are open on the sides, much like Victory Field, to allow fans to view the action as they make their way to/from the restrooms (which are behind each goal) and concession facilities (which are ample). Lots of handicapped seating areas at the top of each level, radio and coaches' booths at the top of the rink, with a press box in the top corner across from the benches.

The concourse entryway to end zone seats.

There isn't a bad seat in the house, with a fan in the upper deck virtually able to carry on a conversation with someone at ice level. The pitch of the seats -- long a problem with the old Coliseum -- is significantly steeper, allowing for better sightlines and keeping fans close to the action.

Up to fourteen rows of seats are in the lower deck, between four and eight rows in the upper deck, allowing for fans to be very close to the action. It's a sparkling venue with comfortable seats (both the padded temporary folding chairs and the gray permanent seats) and plenty of legroom. Needless to say, it will be a great place to watch a game. I walked up to the last row of the upper-deck corner seats with my seven-year-old son, and he immediately said "these are GREAT seats." There are also two sections of temporary seats behind the glass.

The old ticket area/entryway has been replaced with an open entry pavilion with stairs to the seating bowl/concourse level, an Indy Fuel gift shop, and ticket windows.

With the brown paint removed from the windows, light streams in from behind and above the seating bowl, creating a very bright rink. The four-sided scoreboard has video capability at center ice, and ribbon boards will also allow for more "totem" for advertisers, but more importantly, an ability to convey game information. The rafters will be hard to recognize, as acoustical bunting have covered up much of the roof and the steel beams, helping transform the acoustics of the building with a first-rate sound system.

Among some of the other cool touches: a section of old wooden seats which hearken back to the original 1939 Coliseum. That section is in the lower deck corner of the end the Fuel will shoot twice, a practice rink that is connected to the main rink. Also in the entry pavilion are two sets of original wooden Coliseum seats, in the old green paint, from 1939. No stone has been unturned -- photographer wells are cut out of the seating bowl in the corner, another is in-between the benches, there is plenty of room at ice level for workers to do their jobs, but also a production room next to the press area to run the scoreboard graphics.

There are six locker rooms in the facility -- one for the Fuel (which is in the location of the old Skate Shop), one for IUPUI basketball (which will also call the Coliseum home), and four auxiliary locker rooms that connect to the adjacent youth/practice rink just south of the Coliseum.

A panoramic view of the Coliseum taken from the upper deck.
Needless to say, it'll be a very good experience for fans, players and game workers. The Fuel will compete in the ECHL beginning in fall 2014 -- the season is likely to begin in mid-October. They will play a 72-game regular season schedule, with 36 home games. There will be plenty of nearby rivals -- the ECHL also has teams in Cincinnati, Evansville, Fort Wayne and Toledo.

As we get closer to the season, we will take a deeper look into the ECHL, the Fuel, the potential players who might be coming from the Chicago Blackhawks (and free agents), and get ready for the 2014-15 season here at the Indy Hockey Blog!

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