Completed in 1983 at a cost of $25 million, the George M. Sullivan Arena was designed as an all-purpose sports arena amid the late-1970s and early-1980s Anchorage construction boom. After billions of dollars in oil revenue came into the state following the completion of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, Anchorage city officials launched an ambitious effort to revitalize and modernize the city. These efforts included the construction of a performing arts center, a convention center, library, and the Sullivan Arena, which was the first of these to be completed. The arena takes its name from the notable Anchorage mayor who initiated many of the building projects. The city-owned arena is one part of the Chester Creek Sports Complex, which includes the Ben Boeke Ice Arena, Kosinski Fields, Mulcahy Stadium, and Robert O. Robertson Stadium. It is primarily built from concrete stanchions that support the dome and inner seats. The seats are exposed on the exterior as verticals, strongly capped by the wide horizontal fascia of the roof. Entrances are at the corners, sheltered by projecting rounded upper stories surfaced with glazed tile. The Brutalist design was by Harold Wirum and Associates and representative of sports facilities built in that era.
The arena includes an ice rink and basketball court, but it could also host concerts, conventions, boxing and wrestling matches, and other events. Musician Willie Nelson officially opened the arena with a concert on February 8, 1983. The seating capacity for the Sullivan Arena ranges between 6,500 for hockey and nearly 9,000 for concerts or wrestling matches. The arena has hosted national performing acts, but it was used mostly as the home ice arena for the Aces, a semiprofessional hockey team known as the Anchorage Aces between 1989 and 2003 and as the Alaska Aces between 2003 and 2017. The arena also hosted the Great Alaska Shootout, an early season NCAA basketball tournament from 1983 to 2013. Today the Sullivan Arena is used sparingly and operates at a financial loss, calling into question its longterm viability. The Alaska Airlines Center, on the campus of the University of Alaska Anchorage, tends to host musical acts and the marquee basketball games. However, the Sullivan Arena remains the only multipurpose arena with an ice surface. In 2015, the arena received $9 million renovation, included new seats and a scoreboard.
Barrett, Beth. “Outside Firm Wins Final Arena Bid OK.” Anchorage Times, May 26, 1982.
Bragg, Beth. “UAA Hockey Team Moves Home Games From Sullivan Arena to On-Campus Rink.” Anchorage Daily News, May 29, 2019.
Hansen, Steve. “Arena Dedication Honors Sullivan.” Anchorage Times, February 6, 1981.
Hansen, Steve. “George M. Sullivan Arena.” Anchorage Times, February 6, 1983.
Hansen, Steve. “Willie Just Plain Folks, Promoter Says.” Anchorage Times, January 26, 1983.