More than one million patrons have passed through the lobby of the Ford Center since it opened. Even though it is a new facility, many would call it a treasure.
Since the Ford Center opened in 2011, it has been home to the University of Evansville Men’s and Women’s basketball teams, nationally televised sports tournaments, two different pro hockey franchises, an annual circus, conventions, and a long list of concerts.
Executive Director Scott Schoenike says the success of the venue came long before the doors opened.
“When you open a building – that 6 months before it opens is actually really the crunch time for us, to make sure we had a flawless opening,” Schoenike said.
If you have ever attended an event at the Ford Center, there’s a good chance the memory of that date is recognized along the walls of the “Corner Club” located just inside the front entrance.
“It was an idea we had – just to put the order of events here. So every show we have a picture made that sort of represents it,” Schoenike said, “Its neat to see people come in here, and look at them and remember they were there, or remember where they sat. Its about building new memories here.”
The Ford Center has seen its share of big names, such as Elton John and Eric Church, but what act holds the maximum attendance?
“Carrie Underwood holds the maximum attendance here. It was about 10,250 was the largest concert we’ve done,” said Schoenike, “Her and Elton have kinda bounced back and forth a couple times.”
Many Tri-Staters have fond memories of the former Roberts Stadium.
Production Manager Mark Werner knows the limitations of the old venue first hand, and what improvements were needed in the new venue to attract more national acts.
“My dad retired from the stadium. I grew up there. I loved the stadium. I hated to see it go. Dealing with all the issues it did have,” Werner said, “Rigging overall at the stadium was 60,000 pounds total.”
To put that in perspective, a single beam within the Ford Center can support 80,000 pounds alone with rigging that can support over 300,000.
“Power was another issue with the stadium. We’d run out of power, so we’d have to bring in generators at times. Just to meet their demands on sound and lights,” said Werner, “But we have more power in one corner of the floor than the old stadium had.”
With more demand for dates comes the urgency to convert the venue in time to host three events within 24 hours – Monster Trucks, Basketball, and Hockey.
High above the arena floor hangs the “Jumbo Tron” manned by dozens of production personnal, camera operators, and Ryan Mickens – audio visual director for the Ford Center.
Mickens says it is his job to keep folks entertained during any dead time.
“There’s so much dead time that you don’t really realize. In hockey there’s a lot of dead time,” Mickens said, “Having some music or having a crowd cam, something to get people involved in the game.”
Even though some of the newness of the stadium has faded over the past seven years, Mickens says patrons will notice some upgrades.
“They’ll notice the picture quality is gonna be a lot sharper. Especially on the TV’s on the concourse. And the jumbo-tron. We’ll be able to do a lot cooler things. Especially with some of our graphics. We’ll be able to integrate stats into the game,” Mickens said, “We’ve got a little more power in our graphics engine. So we can put some new stuff in there.”
From conventions to sports, concerts, and civic events, the Ford Center will continue to be a Tri-State Treasure.