Revamp will help Tacoma Dome brings its sexy back

The Tacoma Dome is getting renovated this year, just in time for its 35th birthday.
The Tacoma Dome is getting renovated this year, just in time for its 35th birthday. News Tribune file photo, 2013

What can we say, Tacoma City Council? You had us at legroom.

When the city closes the Tacoma Dome in June for $30.7 million worth of renovations, $12.5 million of that will be spent on new seating. Described as upgrades for the 21st century human body, state-of-the art retractable seats will replace the Dome’s creaky, aluminum benches.

Last year, 685,665 people sat in the T-Dome’s seats, and we’re confident we speak for most when we say new chairs will be much appreciated. T-shirts and 30-ounce-sippy cups make good concert souvenirs, not back aches and leg cramps. The new Dome seating won’t increase capacity, but you can bet the 22,000 people packed in to see headliners will be more comfortable.

We won’t miss the public address system, either. Announcers sound like they’re speaking from a car trunk in the parking lot. Mercifully, the audio is set to get a million dollars’ worth of improvements.

Initially, the $2.5 million to be spent on new public restrooms gave us a shock. Then we considered the current facilities, which look like they were stolen off a set for a 1960s prison film. Those johns need a transplant, stat.

The Tacoma Dome opened 35 years ago this month. For anyone flinching at the cost to carry it into its next phase, keep two things in mind:

1) The tab for Seattle’s planned KeyArena renovation comes in at $600 million, so Tacoma’s is a relative bargain. 2) The cost is roughly what was spent to refurbish Cheney Stadium seven years ago, giving Tacomans a fine pair of upgraded public venues.

The return on investment certainly can’t be ignored. In 2017, the Dome hosted 18 concerts and brought the city $2.7 million in revenue. Last year, when Garth Brooks rocked the Dome for five shows in three days, he brought more than 100,000 concertgoers to town and made the city richer by $425,000.

The Tacoma Dome hosts 75 to 100 events a year, and soon even more can be scheduled.

Kim Bedier, director of Tacoma venues and events, anticipates KeyArena will have an NHL team and other regular tenants, while the Tacoma Dome has more flexibility. “We do not have a resident sports tenant, so we’ll have the dates available to book shows.” She’s also quick to point out that the T-Dome still will have the largest indoor seating capacity in the region.

We’re just thankful it didn’t share the fate of Seattle’s Kingdome, which lived only to age 24. It took another 15 years to pay off the public bonds.

The Tacoma Dome is where we celebrate graduations and mourn fallen heroes. It has hosted the Tacoma Stars, the Tacoma Rockets and for one brief but shining season, the Seattle SuperSonics thundered through. The voices of David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, Billy Graham and Ray Charles have flown to the top of the rafters.

As the decades roll on, some may see it as an oldfangled product of the early 1980s, when neon was edgy. But there’s something metaphorical about the engineering feat, with its self-reinforcing roof and triangular panels that depend on one another for strength.

Paris has a tower, London a clock, Seattle has a needle and Tacoma has a gray-blue geodesic dome. As Frank Lloyd Wright once said of quirky buildings: “They just need to be given time to be appreciated.”

Tacoma leaders are smart to give our Dome $30.7 million worth of appreciation.

By the time Justin Timberlake takes the stage in November, this iconic piece of architecture will be bringing a little of its own sexy back.