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New University of Alaska Anchorage arena not just sports venue, could become major music site

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A new sports and entertainment venue is preparing for its debut in the state's largest city.

The $110 million, 192,000-square-foot Alaska Airlines Center at the University of Alaska Anchorage will officially open next month with a volleyball tournament, the Alaska Dispatch News reported (http://is.gd/2e72in ).

The arena is most often promoted as a 5,000-seat sports venue. But it could quickly become the state's prime live music venue, beating out the cavernous Sullivan Arena — where rapper Coolio became so frustrated with the sound system during a 1996 concert he kicked the speakers off the stage. The arena will host its first concert when the Southern rock band Alabama Shakes performs Sept. 13.

The Great Alaska Shootout will be played this year at the Alaska Airlines Center instead of Sullivan, and basketball, volleyball and the gymnastic teams will call the arena home.

But there will also be 10 to 12 non-sports events, like concerts and speakers, and the old notion of ballpark food will be taken up a notch. The arena will also have its own Varsity Sports Grille, featuring beer and wine and food like artisan pizzas. The restaurant will be open seven days a week, and officials hope it becomes a destination of its own.

General manager Chris Orheim said there are 500 regular parking spaces, plus 100 "VIP" parking spots. In addition, there is an agreement in place with nearby Providence Alaska Medical Center to use two parking garages there.

The grand opening weekend will be Sept. 5. On Sept. 10, the arena will host the Taste of Alaska charity benefit for the UAA Emergency Food Fund.

Orheim said the intent is to keep the building accessible to the public, including making available a rubberized walking track that circles the building's top level.

The new arena also has a large balcony that offers a panoramic view of the Chugach Mountains.

"This is going to be a great place for weddings," Orheim said.

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