Flint Firebirds


Flint Firebirds

Arena Name: Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center
Capacity: 4,400 (3,960 seated)
Built: 1969
Address: 3501 Lapeer Road, Flint, MI, 48503
Telephone No: (810) 744-0580
Ice Surface Size: Regulation
Franchise Date: 2015-16
OHL Championships: None
Memorial Cup Championships: None
Colours: Navy Blue, Orange, Grey & White
Official Web Site: http://www.flintfirebirds.com/
Venue Web Site: http://dorteventcenter.com/
Google Satellite: Click Here

OHL
Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center
Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center
What's the Arena Like?
OK, so when the Plymouth Whalers announced in early 2015 they were moving to Flint, the hand-wringing started almost immediately. Yes, Flint has a certain negative reputation among people who've never been there, and even among those of us who have genuine affection for the city, it still doesn't quite bring to mind the glories of Renaissance Florence. When the tainted water crisis put the city back on the map for all of the wrong reasons in the middle of the Firebirds' first season, the chorus of negativity from the wags intensified. But the truth of the matter is that Flint, in spite of its perpetual economic depression, is a city with a fierce sense of pride and a long history of supporting their local hockey teams. With the moves over the past few years to fill vacant markets in the Niagara region, Hamilton and North Bay, Flint was always the best remaining bet for another OHL franchise. The players all live and attend school in the safe, boring suburbs, the Firebirds had a built-in rival in Saginaw dating back decades, and the city has taken to supporting the local team well in their first season.

The former IMA Sports Arena was built in the 1960's and is located just on the Flint side of the boundary separating city from suburbs. It's easily visible from the interstate; a modernist gleaming white pile that has the unceremonious profile of a functional mid-century arena, surrounded by parking lots. On game nights the parking lot fills slowly and expensively, and a number of people appeared to be parking on city streets in the neighbourhood immediately to the south.

Mrs OHLAG and I stopped into the arena in 2009 en route to Saginaw just to have a look at the place, and what we found then was a dark arena that was functionally unchanged from the 1960's. We're pleased to report now that the upgrades done over the summer of 2015 in anticipation of the Firebirds' arrival have done good work. The mid-century modern lobby now has a small team store in an alcove that's open on non-gamedays, and the old seats (at least in the upper level) have been replaced with new ones. To our great surprise, the lower bowl seats are all interlocking folding chairs - one would hope that the Firebirds are planning to replace them in the summer of 2016! Otherwise, the place has been given a coat of paint to erase all traces of the Generals' navy and gold, a new video board has been installed, and the lighting has been upgraded.

The arena otherwise is unremarkable. The late 1960's design ethos of function over form lives in Flint, with one functional (if narrow) concourse around the top of the seating bowl, a few food stands and beer vendors, tiny bathrooms, and otherwise very little. The seats are very comfortable and have good views. In fact, "intimate" would be a good word to describe the building; the ceiling is low and reflects noise well, and the ceiling above the concourse is so low (and the views at the top of each section so narrow) that it's almost claustrophobic.

As far as game presentation goes, well, the Firebirds are still learning, and one hopes they improve. The video board's graphical presentation is unremarkable, neither innovative and exciting nor stale and boring. The sound system is too loud for such a small arena, and the announcer's clear need to be the center of attention at all times would grate on me if I had season tickets. I'd also like to see a little bit more of Flint's hockey history on display - there are acres of bare white walls throughout the arena that could be used for photographs, loads of ceiling space for banners from the Generals and Tropics, etc. Even a few gallons of blue and orange paint would go a long way, and wouldn't at all be out of place in an older arena that dripped navy and gold when I visited in 2009.

Few cities have had a rougher go of it over the past thirty or so years than Flint. A one industry town that lost its one industry isn't that remarkable, particularly in a place like Michigan, but whether it be because of poor publicity, Roger & Me, gross municipal mismanagement, or the fact that it's an independent city rather than a suburb like Newark or Trenton, Flint has become the American poster child for post-industrial malaise and decline. And that's unfair. No, Flint isn't paradise. But it remains what it always has been on so many levels - a blue-collar town that loves its hockey, and that outside of the core is not much different from any other mid-sized American city.

Assuming the hiccups of the first year of Rolf Nilsen's ownership are overcome rather than indicative of a larger future pattern, and assuming shy suburban Ontario parents aren't so scared of the water that they don't let little Chase come play for the Firebirds, there's no reason the team won't succeed. The city has proven over the years that it will support hockey, and with a built-in rival just up the road in Saginaw, one expects that the Firebirds will become an entrenched part of the fabric of the OHL long in the future.
Inside the Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center
Dort Event Center
Future Developments
The Dort Event Center underwent massive renovations in anticipation of the Firebirds starting play, which included "a professional grade first-class locker room with a players lounge, stadium seating video room, coaches' offices, equipment and trainer's rooms along with a new weight room, media suite and visitor's locker room. In addition, a new exterior video sign was installed on the I-69 highway, new seamless glass will be replaced in the arena and a HD video board including a complete 7 camera production with instant replays will be completed for the upcoming season."
What Is It Like For Away Fans?
The crowd seemed pretty tame even on "College Night" featuring $2 tallboys, but for a game against Hamilton, there's no reason why the fans should have been at their most truculent. I'd certainly hope they'd get their collective dander up a little more for the Spirit, Sting or Spitfires.

How To Get There

From the East: Exit off I-69 at #139, Center Road, and proceed south to Lapeer Road. Turn left, and the arena will be on your right.
From the West: Exit off I-69 at #138, M-54, and proceed south to Lapeer Road. Turn right, and the arena will be on your left.

Parking is on site for a $10 fee, or on city streets to the south of the complex.
Franchise History
The Flint Firebirds began their existence as an expansion team in 1990-91 at Cobo Arena in downtown Detroit as the Detroit Ambassadors. Arena ownership decided that it was too expensive to maintain ice in Cobo, so for the team's second season they had relocated to Joe Louis Arena. The following year the junior team decided to attach themselves to the popularity of the resurgent Red Wings, and in 1992-93 the Ambassadors became the Junior Red Wings. This state of affairs lasted until the end of the 1994-95 season, when Red Wings owner Mike Illitch and Jr Wings owner Peter Karmanos began developing their well-publicised feud. Karmanos had tried to buy the Wings from Illitch, and eventually bought an NHL team of his own, the Hartford Whalers. (Karmanos still owns the Carolina Hurricanes.) The feud reached fever pitch as Illitch cast the OHL champion Jr Wings out of the Joe and into a state of homelessness. Karmanos immediately began planning to build his own arena in suburban Plymouth to be near his Compuware Corporation. The newly renamed Detroit Whalers spent 1995-96 essentially homeless, splitting their time between the massive Palace of Auburn Hills and the tiny Oak Park Ice Arena. In 1996-97 the Compuware Sports Arena opened, and in 1997-98 the Detroit Whalers were renamed for their new suburban home. After spending nearly twenty years playing to dwindling crowds in a terrible arena in the Detroit suburbs, Peter Karmanos finally had enough and sold the team to investors in Flint, who renamed the club the Firebirds.
Retired Numbers
None
Local Rivals
Flint and Saginaw have a long, dedicated rivalry going back decades, and Flint-Saginaw games are expected to rock, with the two cities less than half an hour apart, and so much in common as blue-collar industrial towns.
Inside the Dort Federal Credit Union Event Center, 2009
Dort Event Center

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 2002-16.
All rights reserved.
Last Revised: February 16, 2016