Call it a municipal eclipse: Thursday, Seattle leaders announced a mega-proposal for a shiny new $500 million sports arena that could bring an NBA team back to Puget Sound, along with NHL hockey.
Suddenly, Tacoma’s plans to study the feasibility of bringing pro basketball and hockey to the Tacoma Dome look a bit less feasible. The city pushed it forward this week, sending out a request for bids to study the Dome’s future. The maximum commitment: $100,000 to the successful bidder.
The Seattle proposal is a paper dream, big and brash, far from shovel-ready, but driven by a well-heeled backer with specific plans, property in hand and a financing scheme.
Tacoma’s plan, first announced last fall, looks nothing like that. It’s not a proposal. It’s more like an exploration. Thursday, local leaders downplayed the pro sports angle, and underlined the fundamental question: what to do with the aging Dome.
Under “scope of work” in the city’s proposal, the first task is labeled “NBA/NHL Franchise,” followed by a command to examine “potential market reality.” The second task would look at the potential of attracting major sports events such as college basketball, figure skating and professional soccer, as well as smaller events such as minor league sports and concerts.
Sports acronyms, especially “NBA,” tend to dominate the discussion, said Mayor Marilyn Strickland. They’re not the sole purpose of the study.
“It’s hard for that term not to take over the scope of the entire project,” she said Thursday. “It’s not strictly about NBA or NHL. It’s really just as much about taking a look at a regional public asset that we have and how do we improve it.”
Money for the study won’t come from the city’s strapped general fund. It’s supposed to be drawn from a Tacoma Dome fund that operates separately. It’s also supposed to be a joint effort among local parties. Pierce County and the Tacoma-Pierce County Economic Development Board have committed $25,000 and $5,000 to the project, respectively.
County Executive Pat McCarthy said a study of the Dome’s future still makes sense, with or without the prospect of pro sports.
“It’s reasonable to study the future of the Tacoma Dome,” she said Thursday. “Look at it – it needs something. It’s a major tourist attraction. It brings tens of thousands of people every year. It brings outside dollars into the county. It’s an iconic facility that defines Tacoma and to some degree Pierce County.”
As written, the study would determine the cost of upgrades needed to bring the Dome up to NBA or NHL standards (compared to building a new arena.) The language of the proposal also includes wiggle room. The city can reject all bids, or change the scope and direction of the study as it sees fit. Bids are due by March 6.
The Dome study has other baggage. Late last year, it prompted an internal city ethics probe, based on the involvement of Mike Combs, the city’s longtime public assembly facilities director, now retired.
The city’s ethics code restricts former city employees from direct involvement in city activities for a year after leaving employment. Combs, now a private consultant, retired at the end of April 2011, but actively worked on the Tacoma Dome project for several months afterward. The city has yet to release the investigation’s findings.
Staff writer Lewis Kamb contributed to this report. Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486 email@example.com