Saginaw Spirit


Saginaw Spirit

Arena Name: Dow Event Center, Wendler Arena
Capacity: 5,497
Built: 1972
Address: 303 Johnson Street, Saginaw, MI, 48607-1213
Telephone No: (989) 759-1330
Ice Surface Size: 192' X 85'
Franchise Date: 2002-03
OHL Championships: None
Memorial Cup Championships: None
Colours: Red, Blue & White
Official Web Site: http://www.saginawspirit.com/
Venue Web Site: DowEventCenter.com
Unofficial Sites: Spirit Unofficial Site, Spirit Talk Message Board
Google Satellite: Click Here

OHL
Wendler Arena
Dow Event Center
What's the Arena Like?
I started going to road games in 2002-03, which coincidentally was the first season that the Saginaw Spirit existed after moving from North Bay. That first year, talking to the box office on the phone, the ticket agent thought we were coming from London, England. We showed up to Wendler Arena wearing our green and gold, and the ticket-taker thought we were Green Bay Packers fans. Yes, Saginaw circa 2002-03 was a group of league neophytes, that's for sure. Over the past few years, though, the team and fans have grown up quite a bit, and as a fan who's been to Saginaw at least once a year for each year since they arrived (save the year I lived in Newfoundland), it's been a pleasure to watch a new market come to understand, embrace, and finally love junior hockey.

The Dow Event Center is located in the heart of downtown Saginaw, Michigan. It's a stone's throw away from I-675 and is clearly visible from the interstate, which runs right behind the back wall of the arena. The arena is near some other Saginaw landmarks, including the old vaudeville playhouse, the Temple Theater. The building itself looks very much like the 1970's-era design that it is. It's constructed with brown brick and cement and looks like in another life it may have been a high school or a municipal government building. The Event Center consists of the Wendler Arena, an attached theater, and a few convention-center-style rooms. There is also a huge glass pavillion-style lobby on the front of the arena which was built as part of a massive renovation project over the summer of 2003. The renovations brought a building that was almost condemned up to code, and the place sparkles.

Our Saginaw experience usually begins with a trip to the "Blue Line Club" which is a restaurant/sports bar set up in one of the convention rooms. You need a special pass to be admitted, but they're relatively easily obtainable if you have a local contact, or even if you just stand outside looking forlorn. Before and after every game either the team's coach, owner, or one of the players will take the stage and address the season-ticket holders and answer questions, and tell the people what to expect from that night's game. It makes the Spirit accessible to the community and is a fantastic idea in my opinion. The Blue Line club serves liquor and food before every game and the food is excellent.

The arena itself is a split-level design with a concourse running around the length of the building about halfway up the seating area. It's reminiscent of NHL arenas like Joe Louis Arena or the Continental Arena in New Jersey. To get to your seats from the concourse underneath you have to walk up a flight of stairs. Wendler Arena feels big. It's one of the league's larger arenas at 5,497 seats, but it feels even bigger than that. Seats are exceptionally comfortable. The permanent seats are all blue and padded like movie-theatre seats. After growing up with the wooden, two-man benches at the London Gardens, Saginaw's seats feel like the very lap of luxury! The Spirit have set up a lot of temporary seats down by the glass as well, given that the arena floor is bigger than the ice pad. In one corner there is also a small private banquet area which is enjoyed nightly by bigwigs. Looking through the glass in the lower level can be uncomfortable - the best seats in Saginaw seem to be in the "Upper" area above the concourse, where your seats are elevated and you can see everything on the ice. There is also an upper catwalk circling the arena where the press box and a few private boxes are located. It looks like the view up there would be incredible.

Saginaw enjoys the use of a video board, but unfortunately, they forgot to put the time-clock on it! As a result the timer is superimposed with a computer over the video picture. It's very difficult to see. There are also complete scoreboards in two of the corners, above the seating area, but it feels weird to have to crane your neck whenever you want to see the penalties.

The "intangibles" of the Dow Event Center are generally good. There's a large variety of food available both underneath and in the seats. Local favourites like roasted almonds add to the normal arena food, and if you happen to be sitting close to the booth then the smell will tempt you all game long. A wide selection of souvenirs are available. Bathrooms are generally clean, but you have to go down a flight of stairs to get to them! The arena gets cold when people go outside for a smoke, so the Event Center provides heating lamps in the concourse for the coldest of nights. Music selection is generally good, although a bit too loud for my taste. The team is big on "off-ice entertainment", with a cheerleading team that manages to be ignorable when you don't want to pay attention. The building also has one of the league's most annoying promotions announcers, a young woman whose voice has no level between "off" and "shouting". The team's two mascots are top quality - Sammy Spirit manages to be entertaining without being annoying, which Steagle Colbeagle the Eagle really needs nothing said about him. The team has played their relationship with Stephen Colbert's television show to the hilt as the show had a rinkboard advertisement in 2006-07, and the video board used to show the latest Colbert plug of the league before every game. There is a great hockey atmosphere and the fans are very welcoming (see below).

Perhaps more than any other team in the OHL, the Saginaw Spirit like to make their guests feel welcome. Apart from our usual VIP passes, we usually have numerous people come up to us wanting to chat. We even had a nice conversation with the team's owner, Dick Garber, who went out of his way to talk to us, and is usually highly visible at games. People in Saginaw are unbelievable and attending games there is a real joy. After having their UHL team abducted in the middle of the night in the middle of the hockey season, Saginaw was embittered by hockey and the Event Center came within a hair's breadth of being bulldozed. Instead, the Spirit have done a fantastic job in embracing their community and they have one of the best average attendances in the league.

Over the past five years, Saginaw has come to love the OHL. No one thinks we're coming from England anymore, and the peculiar Canadian instution of junior hockey has been fully embraced there much like in Erie. The Knights have been playing in London since long before I was born, and had already been in town for more than twenty years when I went to my first game at age 5. I didn't get to see the rest of the city embrace the team like I did back in the late 1980's, but it has been a great pleasure watching Saginaw embrace the league over the past five years. Their future in Mid-Michigan is secure, and hopefully, they'll have a championship team to call their own in the near future.
Future Developments
There are no plans to renovate or replace the Dow Event Center.

Before the Saginaw Spirit came to town, the hockey-mad city of Saginaw had been through three differently named teams in ten years (due to a variety of bad owners and mismanagment), and the Wendler Arena was so run-down that the city was prepared to raze it. Instead, the Spirit came, and $14 million was spent on a new locker room, training facility, new seats (padded), rink boards, video scoreboard, sound system, lighting, more bathrooms, signage and a new Zamboni, a new box office and a new glass entryway for the three parts of the Event Center (the arena, conference facility and theatre). Renovations were completed by 2004.

If the Spirit are awarded the Memorial Cup at some point in the future, they plan to add private boxes as well.
Inside Wendler Arena
Wendler Arena
What Is It Like For Away Fans?
Saginaw fans are great! The Event Center has a great gameday atmosphere and the place is filled with hecklers, who can be hilarious to listen to. (The best line I heard was someone calling us "more imported trash from Canada", referring to Michigan's controversial garbage contract with Toronto.) They treat visitors exceptionally well, though, and I would put Saginaw at the very top of the OHL's "local hospitality" meter. Atmosphere was very good too, like most American buildings - they're loud and they add a lot to the game. The experience of going to Saginaw has been so good in the past that between my first visit and moving out east, I didn't miss a single away game in town. That's really all you need to know about how well they treat visitors, and how much fun games are there.

Also, one note - the area around the arena is mostly fine on gamedays, but the area immediately north of the arena on the other side of the highway is scary-looking. If you're from out of town, follow the signs to get back onto the Interstate after the game and don't stray too far, although for us, a Slurpee and a fillup at the 7-11 a few blocks south on Washington is a post-game tradition.

Sports Nut says:
I really can't complain about their fans. When I arrived, all of the concession workers and those selling programs were very open and warming. A pleasant surprise, to say the least. You don't see that in all arenas. Their fans were generally loud during the game, but very few showed any hostility towards us Spits fans. The occasional comment doesn't do anything but make me laugh. Most arenas have fans that will look twice at visiting jerseys, but not all will keep on walking instead of making a rude comment. They kept walking in Saginaw, which was really nice to see. Generally, loud fans towards their team, but pleasant towards visitors.

How To Get There

From the South:
Take I-75 Northbound to the I-675 Downtown Exit. Take this route to the 5th and 6th Avenue Downtown Exit. Follow the service road you exit onto North Washington. Turn left and travel to Johnson Street. Saginaw County Event Center is located on the Northeast corner of Washington and Johnson. Parking ramp on your right.

From the North:
Take I-75 Southbound to the I-675 Downtown Exit. Exit at the Jefferson Street Downtown Exit. Take the first right off the exit ramp. Take a right onto Johnson Street; the Event Center is on your right. Parking ramp on your left.

From the East:
Take M-46 West to Northbound I-75. Exit at the I-675 Downtown Exit and follow the directions above "From the South."

From the West:
Take Eastbound M-46 to M-13 (Washington Avenue in Saginaw). Turn left (North) and travel to Johnson Street. The Event Center is on your right.

Parking on the streets in downtown Saginaw is not recommended. Many of the team's season-ticket holders park under the nearby freeway, but this is an "at your own risk" proposition given that the neighbourhood around the arena is somewhat dangerous. Your best bet is in the guarded multi-storey garage across the street, which carries a charge of $5.
Another Look Inside Wendler Arena
Saginaw County Event Center
Franchise History
The city of St Catharines entered junior A in 1943 with a team called the Falcons. The name was changed in 1947 to the Tee Pees when they affiliated with the Chicago Black Hawks. The name was changed again in 1963 to the Black Hawks. In 1976 this team moved to Niagara Falls to become the Flyers, using a name that had been used before by the team that eventually became the Sudbury Wolves. This second incarnation of the Flyers remained in Niagara Falls until 1982 when they moved to North Bay to become the Centennials. The team remained in North Bay for 20 years before moving to Saginaw to become the Spirit in 2002.
Retired Numbers
None
Local Rivals
The "Michigan Rivalry" between the Spirit and the Plymouth Whalers has heated up since the advent of the Spirit. Saginaw and Plymouth don't like each other and an improving Spirit team will only help heat things up further. Sarnia, Windsor and the Sault are the other natural rivalries to the Spirit, and Stephen Colbert's bear-related prompting has made the Oshawa Generals into an unlikely cross-conference rival.

About the City

By Mid-Michigander jimdrw:

Saginaw is a hands down blue-collar town of about 75,000 in Mid-Michigan. It is the big brother of the tri-cities (Saginaw, Midland, and Bay City). The tri-cities have a total population of about 250,000 people. Saginaw was known as an Indian trading post as early as in 1815 and has a rich history in fur trading and logging. Saginaw began to grow during the lumber era of the late 1800's, and continued to prosper when the auto industry took hold in the early 1900's. The town reached its zenith in the late 1960's and early 1970's when the auto industry, whose plants are located just down the street from the arena, employed a good portion of the inhabitants in the tri-cities. By the 1980's the auto plants began to close, and the downtown still reflects that time as many businesses that were thriving then are now boarded up and/or gone. Around the arena, there are many vacant storefronts and crime problems. In the 1980's, the downtown was downright hazardous to your health at night.

In recent years, prominent businesspeople in the area have begun a revitalization project in the downtown area. The arena was close to being condemned and is now the centerpiece to an enhanced business district. Saginaw Valley State University, Northwood University, and Delta College are the most visible schools of higher education in the tri-cities. The Spirit players attend Davenport University and Nouvel Catholic Central High School in Saginaw. A few famous people have been born in the tri-city area. Saginaw claims Stevie Wonder and Serena Williams, while Bay City is the birthplace of Madonna. Saginaw is a culturally diverse community. There are peoples of Polish, German, Scandinavian, French, and English decent. Since this was a refuge for poor immigrants to find work, you could find a person from just about any nationality you wanted.

For more information about the Saginaw area please see visitsaginawcounty.com.

Feedback

If anything is incorrect or you have something to add, please e-mail me at email and I'll update the guide.


 

 


Copyright Kevin Jordan 2002-06.
All rights reserved.
Last Revised: December 3, 2006