LINCOLN – Intimate and imposing. Maybe, down the road, even a little bit inspiring.
With the Pinnacle Bank Arena — hereon the home of Nebraska men’s and women’s basketball — the city of Lincoln, to perfectly mix metaphors, hit a home run for hoops.
If the outside of the arena, with its aluminum shell and circular shape, sticks out like a postmodern art installation, the interior has a homier, personal vibe. More like a large, immaculate gym than an event center. That fits the Haymarket area, and the city of Lincoln, the leadership of which has wanted so badly to create a showstopper and distinguish the arena from Omaha’s CenturyLink Center at the same time.
So long as the parking around PBA holds up — it’s Lincoln, and since I’ve lived here 15 years, I can vouch that parking is forever an issue, especially when it snows — there’s not a negative in how the arena will feel to Husker fans.
The seats rise up instead of out, creating strong sight lines and a fieldhouse aura, especially when facing the closed end. Each tier hangs a little bit over the previous one, bringing fans a few feet closer. Every seat has a back, a cup holder and just enough give.
The event level has a concourse that runs around the outside of the event floor that makes media, food and locker room services easier to perform. The lower bowl has a corridor inside the curtains that fans can walk around to wear our their kids without missing much of the game. There are, finally, more floor-level scoreboards to compliment the nice-sized, vivid video board that drops down from the center of the ceiling.
Students get a better deal in the form of their own dedicated entrance and eight rows of seats just behind the team benches. The front row is roughly eight feet away from players. Loge boxes and suites are similarly intimate, and the seats are practically double wide. The suites open to a more spacious lounge area.
Locker room facilities are nice — though, for players, they’ll be a downgrade from the palatial ones at the Hendricks Training Complex. No way to avoid that, but teams get their own entrance into the arena, and multiple locker rooms will make it easier to conduct traffic for tournaments. Interview rooms are far less cramped than what Nebraska used at the Bob Devaney Sports Center. The media workroom is a significant upgrade, even if our seats have been moved to a corner of the arena, instead of staying at center court.
About that court: Better in person. The shift in wood colors is more subtle when you’re close to it. The state of Nebraska in the middle is just big enough for a terrific, pregame round of “H-O-R-S-E.”
Other than the almost-overwhelming amount of red inside the arena, Pinnacle Bank Arena otherwise is bathed in muted tones of brown and cream and white. It lacks the grand scale of the CenturyLink’s long facade of an entrance — which includes a convention center most Creighton fans never explore, but view as part of entry experience into Bluejay games — but the lobby is impressive in its own way. I’ll admit I don’t get much from the “chocolate box” art installation but it may fascinate children or historians unusually interested in Lincoln’s history of candy-making.
Reporters were given samples of at least ten food items; some of them, I suspect, won’t be around in a couple years after fans choose not to buy them. The Capital Steak Sandwich — sirloin, provolone, onions — was a winner (and probably expensive.) I’m rooting for the fried pickles – but not the chunky jalapeno remoulade that obliterates the pickle. The very idea of BBQ Nachos confounds me. The big, braided pretzel delivers. The Fairbury red hot dogs are still in the house. Rotella buns are used. The arena’s signature item — The Three Pointer — is a hot dog, brat and polish dog stuffed in a 28-inch bun, topped with chili, cheese and jalapenos.
Inevitably, Pinnacle Bank Arena will get compared to CenturyLink. Omaha’s arena holds more fans, and feels more open and expansive on top of it. But that atmosphere can tend to create a looser home-court advantage, too. CenturyLink’s concourse is a mingling hub.
The open of Pinnacle Bank has an area that may turn into that, especially for college students, but the entire arena seems to fixate on center court. Seats are turned that way. Your eye is drawn there in a way that Creighton’s dark, drab court design cannot command.
It goes without saying that the arena is a considerable upgrade over the Bob Devaney Sports Center, an open-mouth barn bordered on two sides by what amounts to industrial blight befitting of the Iron Curtain days of Eastern Europe. (Yes, the Devaney’s interior and exterior have been spruced up for volleyball, but the grounds remain spare.) But Pinnacle Bank Arena has the look to go toe-to-toe with Century Link.
Lincoln may currently lack Omaha’s raw ability to court and orchestrate major events. But it now has an arena to inspire it.
Video: Time lapse of Pinnacle Bank Arena construction