Since it opened in 1983, the Tacoma Dome has stood as a monument to working-class entertainment, from monster truck shows to AC/DC concerts. It’s built a reputation for hosting emotional celebrations, from graduation ceremonies to religious revivals.
Best of all, the Dome has stoked community pride as the proving ground for state high school sports champions, including football, basketball, wrestling and gymnastics tournaments. Boys who put on pads and roamed the turf in 1984 have grown into men. Some have watched their sons experience the same thrill under the same 152-foot-tall wooden roof. Others reflect on their glory days while driving past on Interstate 5.
So it felt like a betrayal last week when the News Tribune’s TJ Cotterill reported the end of a 32-year tradition. The state football semifinals won’t be held in Tacoma this year; they will take place at neutral sites around Western Washington.
Even worse, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association might move football championship weekend out of the Dome, too. A five-year contract recently expired, and the WIAA will decide its next steps – including a possible move to the University of Washington in Seattle – at its Jan. 25 board meeting.
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Tacoma’s elected officials and civic boosters should fight hard to keep football at the city-owned Dome. If nostalgia and prestige aren’t reasons enough, consider the financial impact.
The 2015 semifinal and championship weekends together brought an estimated 29,250 spectators to Tacoma and had a direct spending impact of approximately $1.9 million, according to the Tacoma South Sound Sports Commission. That figure only counts hard spending on hotel rooms and meals; visitors also open their wallets for hard-to-track expenses such as shopping and gas.
The Dome was designed with good football arena dimensions and desirable indoor amenities for young gridders ready for relief from the frozen tundra. The WIAA has balked at the rising cost of renting the Dome, but city staff offered a reasonable three-year deal with a first-year rate that’s lower than what the WIAA paid last year – not bad considering increased city costs, including a new $10.35 minimum wage that climbs to $12 in 2018.
They’re also adding advanced cell-phone service and wireless Internet in the next few months, which the WIAA, sports fans and news media have been begging for. A state-of-the-art video scoreboard is coming, on a per-event rental basis. And Dome director Kim Bedier says they hope to secure $10-12 million in city funding in the next three years to renovate the lower-bowl seating. (Will that phalanx of ugly removable seats finally disappear from the paved lot behind the Dome? Fingers crossed.)
What about the long-term outlook? The grand dome has aged into a grande dame. She’s five years older than the Kingdome at its demolition. The time will come when Tacomans must decide whether to spend more to keep her competitive not just for sports, but for concerts and other events. The last bond measure, submitted to voters 10 years ago, was defeated.
That’s a fight for another day. City leaders should focus now on persuading the WIAA to sign a new deal for the football championships, as it’s already done for the other high school sports. They can let the football semifinals go; maybe those games will return to the Dome someday, as the Jehovah’s Witnesses did last summer after moving their convention to Seattle in 2014.
But Husky Stadium is no place for a state high school title game.
Seattle can boast all it wants about being the prime Northwest destination for professional and major-college sports. Tacoma will gladly settle for the blue-collar honor of forever hosting the state’s prep champs.
And if the Tacoma Stars would return to the Dome, that would put a cherry on top.