The idea to build a large, multipurpose sports and entertainment facility in Tacoma first surfaced nearly 100 years ago, when civic boosters proposed covering Stadium Bowl with the world’s largest pillarless roof.
That idea fizzled, as did five other civic center proposals over the years, all victims of politics, turf wars or lack of enthusiasm.
Then, in 1980, backers launched the “A Dome of Our Own” campaign. It ended with a remarkable 70 percent approval of the $28 million bond proposal that built the Tacoma Dome.
Doug McArthur, who in 1978 left his position as athletic director at the University of Puget Sound to start a promotions and advertising firm, coordinated that successful campaign.
Last week, as the city of Tacoma prepared to wrap up its 30th anniversary celebration of the Dome, McArthur, now 84, talked about the facility he helped create.
Q: Seventy percent approval for a bond issue is pretty impressive. Why was the campaign so successful when so many others failed?
A: For one thing, it was recognition of the need. The largest building for any public gathering at that time was the UPS Fieldhouse. It housed the home show, the boat show, and anybody who came to town to perform. That was the largest building we had of any size at all.
And then there was Seattle’s Kingdome, which had just been built not too long before and was successful.
We took on the theme “A Dome of Our Own.” It was catchy, and it seemed to catch on with the people
Q: Was there any organized opposition?
A: No. Location seemed to be the one glitch that everyone pointed to. Where is it going to be built? Everybody wanted it in their neighborhood. It was interesting because we didn’t really have difficulty selling the concept of the facility. We had all kinds of difficulty selling the location.
Q: Where else did people think it should be?
A: Certain factions wanted the Cheney Stadium site. Obviously, the downtown faction wanted downtown Tacoma, and the other site was the Hawthorne site, where it was eventually built.
That got to be the biggest thing. Whoever it was we talked to, we almost always would get the same answer: “Yeah, we want the facility, but you got to build it here.”
Finally, one night I said, “Well, look, if it’s a matter of where it’s built, we’ll just put wheels on it and move it around.”
That seemed to at least make people chuckle a little bit and think, “Maybe we are being a little bit on the stupid side here, to oppose the thing strictly because we disagree on the location.”
Q: What were the deciding factors that put it where it is?
A: All three had their advantages. I can’t tell you specifically, but I think the freeway visibility and access had a lot to do with it.
Q: Was the possibility of getting a professional athletic team to locate here a big incentive?
A: No. I don’t even recall it hardly being mentioned. It certainly wasn’t in our ad campaign. We never even talked about that. We talked about a great home for college and high school athletics, we talked about square dancing, and we talked about home shows and boat shows and a variety of civic events.
The goal was to provide the most versatile dome facility in the country. It was designed to be decent enough for every type of thing. Maybe not the greatest for any one, but versatile enough so it could house every imaginable type of event.
Q: Now that the Dome has turned 30, some say it’s outlived its usefulness. What do you think about that?
A: I can’t imagine why anybody would say that. If anything, a new one is needed, or we need to renovate it. But outlived its purpose? No, I can’t see it. We’ve got high school graduations in there; we’ve got state championships in both football and basketball that fill every motel in the area and every restaurant.
Q: It’s definitely aging, though. What, if anything, should be done to it or changed?
A: There’s no question it needs upgrading. There are a lot of things inside, from dressing rooms to rest room facilities that need updating. The seating available today is much more efficient than what’s in there. Yet a few years back a proposal went to voters to renovate, and it didn’t pass.
We as Tacomans need to face up the fact that the Dome needs sprucing up. And we ought to do it now because it only gets worse. It’s 30 years old. If we wait until it’s 50 years old, then we’ve got major problems.
Q: In addition to running the campaign for the Dome, you also served on the jury that chose the final design. Were there any concepts other than domes that were close contenders?
A: Not that I can recall. Domes were much more fashionable at that time. There weren’t a ton of domes around the country.
I think what really triggered it was a dome facility in Flagstaff (Ariz.) that a guy named Wendell Rossman designed. The jury visited that facility and everybody felt, “Wow, this is just perfect for Tacoma.” When you come into Flagstaff you start down a little grade and there sits that dome facility there, all lighted – not as pretty as ours – but beautiful anyway.
You get the same feeling as you come into Tacoma. The Dome is Tacoma now. Basically, it signifies Tacoma just like the Space Needle signifies Seattle.