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City Council seeks Tacoma Dome feasibility study to draw NBA, NHL to town

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Sep. 13, 2011 at 9:15 pm with No Comments »
September 13, 2011 9:18 pm

Tacoma’s mayor and City Council say they want to know what it would take to revamp the aging Tacoma Dome to draw a pro basketball or hockey team to town – and they’re willing to pay up to $100,000 to find out.

“The NBA will be back in this market,” Mayor Marilyn Strickland said Tuesday. “When they are, I want Tacoma to be in the mix of that discussion.”

Backed by local business leaders and area politicians, the City Council agreed Tuesday to pay for part of a market feasibility study for attracting a National Basketball Association or National Hockey League team to the Dome.

The study would examine options and costs for upgrading the 29-year-old facility to NBA and NHL standards, and determine whether there’s corporate interest to help support such an endeavor, Strickland said.

“We haven’t started any conversations with (NBA Commissioner) David Stern, the NBA or anyone in the NHL,” the mayor said. “…We want to know truthfully and honestly if the Tacoma Dome can support something like this.”

City officials hope Pierce County will share part of the study’s estimated $100,000 cost. The Tacoma-Pierce County Economic Development Board also has committed to contributing $5,000 for the study, Strickland said.

Acting City Manager Rey Arellano told the council Tuesday he would find funds to cover the city’s contribution. But finding funds at the county level could be trickier.

“There really aren’t any funds available,” County Councilman Rick Talbert said. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t still find a way to participate. If the NBA is coming back to this region, we should do everything we can to see if we can land a team.”

Whatever the study eventually finds, bringing pro sports to town won’t come cheaply.

Before the Supersonics fled Seattle in 2008, estimated costs to upgrade that city’s KeyArena, or build a facility elsewhere, ranged from $220 million to $500 million. When political support to publicly subsidize such proposals failed to materialize, the Sonics’ new owners moved the team to Oklahoma City.

With the council’s move Tuesday, Tacoma pits itself in a potential battle for luring the NBA back to the region. Already, a potential ownership group is studying the idea of building an arena in Bellevue, according to recent media reports.

Renovating an existing structure could give Tacoma a competitive advantage, City Councilman Spiro Manthou said.

Building an arena from the ground up “would be three to four times more than it would cost to put the Dome back together,” he said.

But City Councilman David Boe, an architect, suggested bringing the Dome to current NBA or NHL standards would require extreme renovations.

“I don’t know if the current Dome can even come close (to current standards),” he said.

Upgrading the Dome to lure an NBA team likely would mean widening its concourse, installing new club seats and building new concessions and luxury suites – the bread and butter of game revenues, said Rob Henson, acting city public facilities director.

“It would cost significantly more” than the $45 million sought for upgrades in an unsuccessful 2006 ballot measure, Henson said.

Opened in 1983 after a $28 million bond issue, the Dome has hosted high-profile sporting events, including the Goodwill Games and the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

It also has served as home to six pro soccer, hockey, basketball and football teams. The Sonics played at the Dome during the 1994-95 season while KeyArena was being renovated.

With the new LeMay Automobile Museum nearing completion next to the Dome, timing might be right for pursuing a pro team, Strickland said.

“There is an opportunity to make the Dome District our own version of what Seattle has with Qwest and Safeco Field district,” she said.

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