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NBA at the Dome? Look at humbler options, too

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Sep. 22, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
September 22, 2011 4:08 pm

The Lakes High School Lancers won a 3A Boys semi-final game in the Tacoma Dome March 4. A proposed study would explore whether the Dome could also host NBA action. (Staff file photo)

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

Let’s not throw cold water on a bold plan to bring pro basketball or hockey to Tacoma. But let’s also make sure any public money spent on the plan pays dividends to the public.

Some of Pierce County’s most distinguished business leaders – the likes of Economic Development Board CEO Bruce Kendall, Columbia Bank CEO Melanie Dressel and uber-investor Herb Simon – are pushing for a $100,000 study of the feasibility of bringing an NBA or NHL franchise to the Tacoma Dome.

The Tacoma City Council has tentatively decided to invest $50,000 in the study, and the Pierce County Council is facing the same decision. The research could be justified if it also covered less far-fetched scenarios for the Dome’s future.

Cities and regions wither without visionaries: Big things don’t happen without big dreams. In this case, the dream might be too big. It comes down to those three fundamentals of real estate: location, location, location.

The Tacoma Dome as a venue for big-league hockey or basketball is a long bet. The owners of the SuperSonics yanked that team out of Seattle three years ago, sniffing that the seemingly impressive KeyArena needed hundreds of millions of dollars of work to make it worthy of an NBA team.

Kendall argues that NBA or NHL magnates might be lured to Tacoma if it were demonstrated that the Dome could be turned into a major league destination for half the cost of a brand-new arena.

Possibly. But the epicenter of Western Washington’s population – and presumably its major league fan base – is somewhere around Seattle. Willie Sutton robbed banks because that’s where the money was, and major league investors will likely prefer King County because that’s where the people – and the money – are.

If there’s a face-off between a potentially luxurious Tacoma Dome and a sumptuous new arena in, say, Bellevue or Renton, one of those cities seems likely to wind up with the puck.
That doesn’t mean the proposed study is a bad idea. Who knows? Pierce County might score with a very long shot.

But the possibility is distant enough that any publicly funded feasibility studies should also look at improvements the Dome will need to flourish in less glamorous ways in coming decades.
While the Dome is showing its age – scrub that roof, somebody! – it remains an unrivaled community center for the South Sound.

It hosts high school sports tournaments, commencement ceremonies, big-name concerts, monster truck events – something for just about everyone. When Tacoma’s teachers met en masse last week for a strike vote, that’s where they gathered. When the region grieved the murders of four slain Lakewood police officers two years ago, that’s where their funerals were held.

A place that provides so much community is priceless. A feasibility study that identified ways to keep the Tacoma Dome up to date and thriving – with or without a major league team – would be well worth the public’s dime.

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