Politics & Government

Tacoma Dome posts strong year, promises some big names in 2015

When Miley Cyrus’ international tour needed an artist to paint a flying hot dog candy-apple red, Tacoma Dome’s event manager Jeff Brown said he’d make a few calls.

The Tacoma Dome was Cyrus’ second Bangerz tour stop. But her people came to Tacoma first for nearly two weeks to build the tour’s set.

Soon after Dome staff found a local autobody painter to paint the giant hot dog, Cyrus’ set was ready for the tour’s first stop in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Feb. 14. She performed in Tacoma two days later.

Cyrus’ 11-day rental for tour rehearsal and the Dome’s 64 other events made 2014 one of the venue’s best ever, said Kim Bedier, the public assembly facilities director for the city.

Concerts were just a piece of the Tacoma Dome’s business. Last year, the Dome saw 478,604 people enter its doors for concerts, wedding expos, family shows, graduations and even a Washington state bar admission exam for would-be lawyers.

Attendance and the number of days booked at the city-owned Dome exceeded expectations. Two years ago, when staff were budgeting for 2014, they predicted the venue would see 476,630 visitors and 192 booked event days. The Dome ended the year with 202 booked event days.

Last year’s sold-out shows featuring Katy Perry, country music star George Strait, Christian rock show Winter Jam and an electronic dance show dubbed “the world’s largest paint party” Life in Color fueled the Dome’s strong showing.

Monster Jam, a monster truck show held in January, hosted the most people of any event held there all year, with three days of shows and 36,385 ticket holders, records from the Dome show.

Concertgoers also arrived hungry if food sales are any indication. Last year ticket holders spent an average of $10 each on food and drinks. George Strait fans spent on average $13.89 per person — the highest the Dome has ever seen for a concert, Bedier said.

Rising per-capita food and beverage spending is a bellwether in the facilities industry, Bedier said. It means people have more money to spend.

“We also have a boat show this year,” Bedier said last week. “… When the economy tanked, the boat shows went away. That’s such a discretionary item.”

Dome staff try to accommodate requests from the stars who visit here, Bedier said.

One such request came from Katy Perry, whose Prismatic tour drew 19,000 fans to the Tacoma Dome in September. Perry’s tour asked the Dome’s staff to change the lighting backstage to match her tour’s theme. Bedier said staff changed lighting in the production hallway, which leads to the dressing rooms, to rainbow hues.

Catering staff also pitch in to make the stars’ visits memorable, Bedier said. Buffets include local items, like Almond Roca and Lynnae’s Gourmet Pickles. George Strait’s crew dined on seafood.

Each artist who played at the Dome last year also received a glass float created at the Museum of Glass.

For the coming year, the Dome is preparing to welcome country artist Miranda Lambert in February and Maroon 5 in March.

Bedier would love to book Garth Brooks, whose new album “Man Against the Machine” has a song called “Tacoma” about a jilted man who drives across the country in his old Chevrolet to try to forget his ex. But, “not yet,” she said.

However, she did offer this: “The community is going to be excited about 2015. It’s going to be a great year for the Dome.”

One of those shows includes three unnamed comics who will perform just before the U.S. Open championship round, she said.

“It’s really famous names and they haven’t been to the region in a while,” Bedier said. “They are big enough names that it will attract people coming into town as well.”

The Tacoma Dome is angling for more of the concert rehearsal business, Brown said. These acts that won’t necessarily play in Tacoma, but they need all of the loading and unloading space that the Dome can offer that venues like Key Arena in Seattle cannot.

For example, with Cyrus’ tour, in addition to building the set, they had to figure out how to fit all of the pieces into the trucks.

“They can do that all inside (of the Tacoma Dome),” Bedier said. “We are a great venue for that.”