Aging Tacoma Dome could get makeover

Tacoma City Council members got a look at preliminary plans for giving the Tacoma Dome a makeover, which would fix up the 20-year-old structure in order to ensure it remains competitive with other large venues in the Pacific Northwest.

The Tacoma Dome opened in April 1983 and is the largest indoor venue in the Northwest, with a seating capacity for more than 23,000 people.

City officials and representatives from the architectural firm of Ellerbe Becket addressed the council during Tuesday’s study session, as part of a presentation on a recently completed Dome renovation study. Officials outlined plans for exterior and interior improvements and a potential expansion of the exhibition hall, as well as cost estimates and funding options.

The upgrades are relevant in light of the fact that the Dome is projected to lose $200,000 in 2003, a downturn that might be the start of a long-term decline due to changes in the concert industry.

“It’s an industry that is evolving and changing very rapidly,” said Jody Hodgson, assistant Dome director.

While concerts make up about 6 percent of events held at the Dome, he said, they account for nearly 40 percent of revenue.

The number of shows in the country is increasing, he added, but attendance per show is down. As compact disc sales decline due to the downloading of music from the Internet, there is more money to be made in touring than album sales, Hodgson explained, noting this is the reverse of past trends.

This has led to a shift toward smaller venues such as the Paramount Theater in Seattle, making the Dome’s vast size – one of its greatest competitive advantages – a liability.

“There is a lot of business being done at the other end of the scale,” Hodgson said.

With an eye toward making the Dome more attractive to events that garner smaller crowds in more intimate settings, as well as an overall modernization of the structure, the plan unveiled by Ellerbe Becket calls for:

– Construction of a “grand entrance” that includes a multi-story glass lobby and indoor ticket offices, creating an obvious front door the Dome currently lacks. “It’s very hard to find the entrance,” said Bill Crockett, principal architect with Ellerbe Becket.

– Widening the concourse by about 10 feet in order to improve the flow of pedestrian traffic, which, as anyone who has attended an event at the Dome can tell you, is hopelessly cramped.

– Adding about one-third more concession space along the inside of the concourse and making it more customer friendly and visually appealing.

– Nearly doubling the amount of restroom space.

– Making greater use of windows to allow more natural light inside, as well as to provide views of the city. “That’s a big, big component of what we’re proposing,” said Stephen Septon, Ellerbe Becket design architect.

– Using space inside more efficiently by changing the seats inside the Dome, creating a more intimate setting by focusing on the stage. Telescoping seats would eliminate the need to store seats outside the building. The ability to host football games and other events requiring a large amount of floor space would be retained.

– Adding dressing rooms, as well as a possible “green room” for performers.

– Consolidating administration offices along the mezzanine level. “We’re looking to separate staff and performers,” Septon said. “They mix a lot now.”

– Adding a loading dock, something the Dome has never had.

The estimated total cost of these major work items is $42 million, officials reported, with optional upgrades such as the creation of a concert hall, expansion of the exhibition hall to 90,000 square feet, a restaurant and a parking garage tacking more onto that figure.

A possible source of financing for the renovation could be rolling over for another 20 years Dome bonds that are scheduled to expire in 2005, generating about $40 million. Voters would have to authorize the plan.

The Tacoma City Council passed a resolution Tuesday night supporting the idea of using a bond sale to pay for the renovation after hearing from the public.

The next step is a community outreach program meant to inform the public why the renovations are necessary and what the options are, said Mike Combs, Public Assembly Facilities director.

“We think this building has contributed a lot to the community,” Crockett said. “It’s really at a crossroads.”