Globetrotters and funnel cakes: Prescott Valley’s Findlay Toyota Center reinvents itself

Findlay Toyota Center in Prescott Valley has had to reinvent itself after the departure of the Northern Arizona Suns and Arizona Sundogs. The center’s family friendly programming included a recent visit from the Globetrotters. (Photo by Kevin Redfern/Cronkite News)

PRESCOTT VALLEY – Louisa Allard had low expectations for the entertainment scene in Prescott Valley when she moved 10 miles north from her former Prescott home. This rural town in northern Arizona with more truckbeds than waterbeds feels simpler than the ever-expanding metropolitan and suburban communities in the Valley.

Allard, 53, was pessimistic that Prescott Valley, once known as “Jackass Flats,” would live up to Prescott, which was dubbed “Arizona’s Christmas City” in 1989.

“When I moved to this area I thought I was going to be kind of bored,” she said.

Fast forward a little over a year, and Allard and her son, Jackson, are regulars at the Findlay Toyota Center in Prescott Valley. For the Allard family, the Harlem Globetrotters paired with a funnel cake is the perfect evening out.

Members outside the community know the 5,100 seat arena – if at all – as formerly hosting the defunct Arizona Sundogs of the Central Hockey League from 2006-2014, and the Northern Arizona Suns – now the Motor City Cruise – from 2016-2020. The facility also was the site of several Arizona Interscholastic Association championship events, including state wrestling tournaments before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The logo of the Northern Arizona Suns is painted on the floor of the Findlay Toyota Center in Prescott Valley. (File photo by Alec Henden/Cronkite News)

Prescott Valley locals know it for much more, including events such as public ice skating and for country music concerts featuring headliners like Toby Keith and Justin Moore.

Sheila Anderson, the arena’s marketing manager, said that the staff caters to the family values of community members in Prescott Valley, hosting safe and kid-friendly acts every month.

Anderson said the management staff had to adapt to keep pace with the influx of residents in Northern Arizona, and the state as a whole. According to World Population Review, Prescott Valley’s population has increased from about 39,100 to 48,951, a boom of about 25 percent. The goal was to return the arena to its Sundogs glory days.

Adding to the challenge was the buyout of the Northern Arizona Suns by the Detroit Pistons in 2020. With no full-time resident, dates needed to be filled. A bit of fortuitous timing went a long way toward filling a void.

Around the same time of the Suns’ departure, the Indoor Football League reached out to arena officials and Prescott Valley about hosting its new expansion franchise, the Wranglers, beginning in the 2021 season.

“It was serendipity,” Anderson said. “It just worked.”

She added, “That kind of stuff never happens.”

Suites were sold on an annual basis to local businesses. During the COVID-19 pandemic, parking lot drive-in movies and concerts brought sponsors that added value, allowing the arena to become a central gathering place despite the pandemic related sports and entertainment shutdown.

“Instead of begging people to come, everybody is actually already excited and it’s a lot easier to sell our tickets now,” she said.

Anderson also says that the event planners are at an advantage because of the building’s intimate feel, which mirrors the closeness of the community.

“The one really cool thing about our venue is that there is not a bad seat in the house,” Anderson said. “Even if you’re getting the cheap seats, they’re still amazing seats.”

Along with free events and complimentary benefits such as free parking, the arena gives back to the community through its multi-layered scheduling. One common practice is allowing local children in the arts to perform halftime shows and intermissions at its athletic events.

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Derik Dahm, 12, performed with his karate dojo at halftime of last week’s Harlem Globetrotters game. It was the third time he performed at the Toyota Center in front of thousands of people, something he says he appreciates for his dojo.

“The food here is amazing, the seats are amazing, the whole atmosphere is awesome,” Dahm said.

Whether it’s the Northern Arizona Wranglers or the Harlem Globetrotters, children are ensured an opportunity before and after the games to meet players on the field and sign autographs, a perk that is not commonly available at major stadiums and sporting events.

As the smell of cinnamon-roasted almonds filled the stadium air, residents arrived almost two hours before the Globetrotters were scheduled to tip off. In a scene that felt more like a state fair than a basketball game, cries of joy echoed throughout the arena as the young ones felt the warmth of a stadium spotlight at center court, replacing the players for a short period before the performance.

“You run into people you know, so that’s kind of fun,” Allard said. “It feels a little more intimate, like we are the family of Prescott Valley.”

Kevin Redfern KEV-in RED-furn (he/him/his)
Sports Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Kevin Redfern expects to graduate in December 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Redfern worked as a digital reporter with Cronkite News last spring.