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Pepsi Center / Denver

Pepsi Center is a well-managed multi-use facility that can provide a first-class experience for visitors to basketball, hockey, arena football and lacrosse, as well as concerts and special events — or even your occasional national political convention.Year Opened: 1999
Capacity: 19,309 (basketball), 18,007 (hockey)
Suites: 95, plus 1,900 club seats
Owner: Kroenke Sports Enterprises (KSE)
Original Cost: $160 million
Architect: HOK Sport
Web Site:
Phone: 303/405-8555
Anchor Tenants: Colorado Avalanche (NHL) / Denver Nuggets (NBA) / Colorado Crush (AFL) / Colorado Mammoth (NLL)
Parking: Pepsi Center is surrounded by more than 4,500 parking spaces in a variety of lots operated by KSE; relatively close-in parking — $15; distant parking — $10; VIP, Valet and Valet Express parking available at various rates. A total of 99 parking spaces for guests with special needs are available in lots A, F and G. Light rail transit links stations near Coors Field / LoDo to Pepsi Center, Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium and Denver’s south metro.
Address/Directions: 1000 Chopper Circle, Denver, CO 80204. From the North and East: Traveling south on I-25 take the Speer Boulevard South exit. At the second stop light, turn right onto Chopper Circle. From the South: Traveling north on I-25, take the Auraria Parkway exit. Turn left on 7th Street to enter the grounds of Pepsi Center. From downtown Denver: Take Speer Boulevard to Auraria Parkway. Go west on Auraria Parkway and turn right on 7th Street.

Pepsi Center is a well-managed multi-use facility that can provide a first-class experience for visitors to basketball, hockey, arena football and lacrosse, as well as concerts and special events — or even your occasional national political convention.

Not only are a wide range of entertainment options offered, but your range of possible experiences can be quite varied. Generally speaking, if you spend a lot at Pepsi Center on parking, good seats, amenities and food, you will come away impressed. While this will be the case with any newer facility featuring suites and club suites, the range of experiences are magnified here. On the lower end of the scale, though, Pepsi Center as a destination can be somewhat less impressive in a few respects.

Even approaching Pepsi Center, you can take in perspectives that are literally breath-taking. The views from the south and southwest are spectacular. Yet, the rear of the building near the railroad tracks is quite unappealing. Unfortunately, most traffic heading to the larger parking lots gets routed behind the building.

The parking situation is good if you opt for the higher price of valet parking, or the VIP lots (reserved for those in club seating and suites). The lowest priced option, at $10, really is not a good value. These B-lot spaces are a long way from the arena, understaffed and very poorly lit (borderline scary). We arrived at Pepsi Center on a rainy night, so these shortcomings were somewhat magnified. Oddly enough, plenty of parking security is evident on non-event days, but not so much in the actual staffing of the lot during events.

Pepsi Center clearly is a destination. Although the arena often is described as located in the bustling LoDo district of downtown Denver, Pepsi Center is set too far away from the retail and tourism areas to be truly considered part of the urban scene. This might be perfect for security purposes — especially with the Democratic National Convention coming to Pepsi Center in August 2008 — but it doesn’t work especially well if your plan is to have a fine meal before a game or go bar hopping after.

Then again, Stan Kroenke (CEO of KSE) really wants you spend your time and money at Pepsi Center — and to his credit he has delivered pretty much all the amenities customers are likely to want. If you plan ahead, you can call in to make reservations (303/405-6090) at the popular Blue Sky Grill at ground level. You’ll definitely get the authentic feel of a Wyoming mountain lodge — not surprising when you consider that reclaimed barn floor planks, Yellowstone Park fire-salvaged timber beams and antler chandeliers accompany two grand hand-stacked stone fireplaces. The grill is best known for serving a ground elk appetizer, but you’ll have plenty of other western cuisine choices typically available — including Q Creek Ranch buffalo ribeye, salmon, trout and ribs marinated in beer.

Although Blue Sky Grill is generally packed, anyone attending Pepsi Center events can enter (but you really should plan to make that reservation). More exclusive dining choices are available at the suite and club levels where you can pick from The Lexus Club restaurant or The Denver Post Newsroom lounge featuring carvery sandwiches.

Concessions on the concourses are varied, and priced consistently with other major-league venues. A basic hot dog goes for $4.50.

As you tour the facility, it becomes apparent that the common spaces were designed to be functional and utilitarian. Even the Grand Atrium main lobby is a reserved design, not flashy, but it is very large. Look for the massive Pepsi Center Trading Company store there featuring merchandise from the Avalanche hockey team, Nuggets basketball team, Crush arena football team and Mammoth lacrosse team (all KSE entities).

The Grand Atrium lobby from two vantage points.

We suspect the place will age gracefully because glitzy can look cheap after a decade or two — and that won’t be a problem for Pepsi Center. At some point (hopefully sooner rather than later), we’d like to see KSE do something about the drab, brown seats. You probably won’t notice them when the place is packed, but on the night we visited the heavy rains and middling competition (Columbus Blue Jackets) apparently kept many season ticket holders away. The fans went home happy as Joe Sakic scored a hat trick, and the Avalanche cruised to a 5-1 victory.

The Pepsi Center design is very good overall, but not as refined or magnificent as some newer venues. Only one year later, a more-refined and inviting HOK Sport-designed arena came on line in Saint Paul — the Xcel Center, home to the Minnesota Wild. Quite possibly, Pepsi Center is more impressive as a basketball venue. When USA Today’s Greg Boeck ranked NBA arenas in 2005 based on buying seats in the $50-60 range, Pepsi Center claimed the top spot overall as a good value. Indeed, you can find some good seats in the lower price ranges.

If you are looking for cheap seats on the top level (300s sections), be aware that the center line / center court seats located up high have fairly extreme vertical views. You are much less likely to get vertigo if you opt for the corners or the ends. Our only other minor complaint has to do with the overload of vendors in some concourse locations. It is nice to have so many choices, but traffic flow is significantly impeded even on a night when the crowd was pretty light. Clearly, the design of the building did not take into account so many portable venders.

Overall, though, Pepsi Center is extremely well managed. We noticed that the Plexiglas boards have been replaced already for this (2007-08) season, and the maintenance crew is vigilant about keeping the view spotless. The staff is courteous, cordial, responsive and extremely professional. Denver is a keen sports city, and KSE delivers an entertaining sports product.

So our qualms are relatively minor -– and most of them can be fixed with some simple adjustments. As such, it isn’t at all surprising that over the span of just a few months in 2008, Pepsi Center will host the opening two tournament rounds of NCAA men’s basketball in March and the men’s NCAA Frozen Four (hockey) Finals in April, followed in late summer by the Democratic National Convention.