Sunday, January 8, 2012

Wendler Arena at Dow Events Center, Saginaw MI

Basic Information
Team: Saginaw Spirit (Ontario Hockey League)
Game: Spirit vs Soo Greyhounds-12/31/2011
Team Website: http://www.saginawspirit.com/
Ticket Information: (989) 497-7747
Tourism Information: (800) 444-9979 or http://www.visitgreatlakesbay.org/
Online Broadcasts: WSGW-FM 100.5 http://www.wsgw.com/
Local Newspaper: Saginaw News   www.mlive.com/saginawnews

Team History: Local businessman Dick Garber brought hockey back to the Saginaw Valley in 2002 when he purchased the North Bay (Ontario) Centennials and moved them to Saginaw, and renamed them the Spirit. Prior to landing in Michigan, the club played in St. Catherines (Ontario) from 1943 though 1976, and in Niagara Falls from 1976 through 1982 before moving to North Bay.

Arena Capacity: The Wendler Arena has a capacity of 5,527 for hockey.

How About That Name (And Some History): Opened in 1972 as the Saginaw Civic Center, the Dow Events Center was the centerpiece of an urban renewal program. The first tenant of the building was the legendary Saginaw Gears of the International Hockey League. Unfortunately, financial hard times hit the city and many of those buildings which were part of the urban renewal program were razed after declaring bankruptcy. In 1999, the Civic Center was in danger as well, but under the leadership of mayor Paul Wendler, the arena (then called the Saginaw County Event Center) began a series of renovations in hopes of luring a new hockey team back to the area. In 2001, the dream was realized when the Saginaw Spirit dropped the puck for the for the first time in their new home. In 2004, the Dow Chemical Company purchased the naming rights for the building, renaming it the Dow Events Center.
On The Town: A part of the "Tri-Cities" (along with Midland and Bay City), Saginaw is located in north central Michigan, approximately two hours northwest of Detroit. The city of Saginaw proper has a population of 61,799 people. It is serviced by Interstate 75, which runs through the downtown area.

Originally the home of the Sauk Native American tribe, the first settlement by white settlers was started in 1815, when Louis Campau established a trading post on the west bank of the Saginaw River. Soon after, the United States government established Fort Saginaw nearby.

In the 20th century, Saginaw became a manufacturing center for the automotive industry, making parts which were sent to Detroit to the large factories there.

Notable natives of Saginaw include tennis star Serena Williams, "Law and Order" actress S. Epatha Merkreson, former NBA player Kenyon Martin, and music legend Stevie Wonder.

Getting There: From I-75 north, exit at I-675 towards Downtown. Take I-675 to the 5th/6th Street exit. After exiting, take the service road for approximately a mile to Washington St. Make a left onto Washington St, and follow to Johnson St. Make a left onto Johnson, and the arena will be on your left, and the parking structure will be on your right.
Nearby Airport: MBS International Airport is approximately fifteen miles northwest of the Dow Events Center.

What To Do: Unfortunately, there wasn't any time on this trip for sightseeing. I would recommend contacting the visitors bureau for more information on that front.

Where To Eat Before The Game: As far as I could tell, there wasn't much in the immediate area of the arena in terms of dining. The girls and I stopped for a quick lunch near our hotel on Tittabawassee Rd where there was a selection of chain and sit-down restaurants, which included Culver's, Applebees, and Bob Evans amongst other choices.

Where To Stay: One of the nice things about catching a Spirit game is the agreement that they have with the Great Lakes Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau. If you make your hotel reservations through a special phone number (888-OHLSPIRIT), you can get a hotel reservation with a special rate as well as up to four Spirit game tickets. On this trip, the girls and I stayed at the Springhill Suites on Tittabawassee Rd, which was about a ten minute drive from the arena. This hotel, opened just two years ago, has HUGE guest rooms! Ours included two queen beds and a pull out sofa, as well as a desk/work area, microwave, small refrigerator, separate shower and toilet facilities, and a large screen HD television. The hotel also features a complimentary breakfast, swimming pool, fitness room, and other amenities. Within ten minutes of checking in, the three of us had decided that we want to stay there again. For more information, visit http://www.marriott.com/ or call (989) 792-2800.
Ticket Prices: Spirit tickets are priced as follows: $17.50 (executive level), $15.50 (lower level), and $13.50 (upper level).

Parking: While there is limited parking on the arena site (this costs $10.00), there is a large covered parking structure directly across the street from the Wendler Arena, which costs $5.00.

The Good Seats: Virtually all of the seating at the Wendler Arena gives good views of the rink, although (in my opinion), the seats could have had a bit more of a slope to them. However, that is not a a major issue. I personally like sitting midway in the upper level on the corner so I can see the action develop "from the back".
Getting In: There arena has a large attractive atrium which houses the main entrance, as well as the box office and will call table.

Arena Food: The Wendler Arena has two main concession stands, one each on the "long ends" of the seating areas, as well as some specialty carts behind the "goal end" in the concourse. The main stands have your basic arena fare.

I sampled the arena's signature hot dog, which was made by Koegel's, a local company. To be honest, I wasn't that impressed with it. It didn't have much of a taste, and it was not an all-beef dog (my favorite). I had two of the area dog's and a large Pepsi, which ran me $10.00. Linda sampled a bratwurst, which she said was "grilled and tasty-a good value". She also said that the bun wasn't too impressive, as it was "a little smashed" and the bottom of the bun "was hard from sitting in the bottom of the warmer tray".

The girls were impressed with the fact that the Wendler Arena sold Tim Hortons' Tim Bits and hot chocolate at the concession stands.

Some of the specialty carts sold roasted almonds and other nuts, Jet's pizza, Guinness lager, and Blue Bunny ice cream.

Here is a sampling of the concession prices at the Wendler Arena:

Hot Dog: $3.00   Nachos: $4.25   Draft Beer: $5.50   Pretzel: $3.00   Large Soda: $4.00   Ice Cream (Dippin' Dots): $4.50   French Fries: $3.50   Pizza Slice: $3.75

Soft Drinks: Pepsi-Cola products are poured at the Wendler Arena.

ATM: A Citizens Bank ATM is located in the lobby near the box office.

Souvenirs: Souvenir tables are located on each "long" side of the main concourse, with each selling a fairly large line of merchandise.

Restrooms: There are restrooms located on all three sides of the main concourse. All are clean and well stocked, but are a little on the smallish side.
Mascots: The Spirit have two eagle mascots: Sammy the Eagle, and his little friend Steagle Cobeagle the Eagle, who is named after Comedy Central's resident political "commentator" Steven Colbert.

Dance Team: Though not technically a "dance team", the Spirit's "Ice Crew" assist in promotions throughout the game.

Program: The Spirit's outstanding game program "Face Off", costs $4.00 and is well worth the investment.

Scoreboard/Arena Voice: The Wendler Arena has an appropriately sized four sided video board which hangs just above center ice. While it does provide replays as well as in-game action, the picture quality isn't exactly state of the art, and the score and period time is superimposed onto the picture, which can be hard to read. Fortunately, there are auxiliary scoreboards providing the score, game time, and penalty information located on each corner above the seating area.

The PA announcer is good, and the acoustics are of a good quality for an arena of this size. The music played is pretty standard for hockey.

Arena Staff: Everyone I encountered during my visit to the Spirit was very friendly, engaging, and helpful. A special thanks to team president Craig Goslin and assistant director of game day operations Lindsay Tucker for their warm hospitality.

Atmosphere: It was a very hockey-knowledgeable crowd. While it wasn't as loud as I have heard in other buildings, the Spirit fans were intensely into the game and knew the game. The game promotions were fairly low key, which was appropriate for this fan base.

Overall: The Wendler Arena has the best of both worlds. While it was recently renovated and upgraded to a level with some of the other arenas in the OHL, it still maintains that "old time" soul, which is definitely not a bad thing. In addition to having a great building, the people there make you feel welcome, and that is a big plus in my book. I highly recommend seeing the Saginaw Spirit if you're in the area.