Tacoma (Wash.) Dome

Washington State’s largest venue is about to get some much-needed attention. The City of Tacoma has committed $21.3 million in improvements to modernize the 33-year-old Tacoma Dome.

Mayor Marilyn Strickland and the Tacoma City Council approved a 2017-18 Biennial Budget presented by City Manager T.C. Broadnax. The city-owned facility will be revitalized with new seating, exterior beautification, renovated restrooms, modernization of backstage areas, and upgrades to loading docks and security systems.

Kim Bedier has been seeking updates for the dome since she took over the role of director of Public Assembly Facilities for the city about four years ago.

“The Tacoma Dome is very much a fabric of the community, but it has been neglected,” she said. “I’m so happy the city is in a position to fund its upgrades.”

The project will be bonded, but because the loan will be paid back from the city’s general funds, the renovation decision did not have to be voted on by taxpayers.

The lack of new venues in the market has further emphasized the dome’s need for updates.

“We’re in a must-play market, and having a capacity of 22,000 and the opportunity to pump up grosses, is icing on the cake,” said Tom Alexander, Tacoma Dome’s booking manager. “I can imagine there is concern with the building’s age, so these updates will help keep us competitive.”

Renovations will begin this summer, with new seating installed during the summer of 2018 and all renovations completed by fall 2018.

One of the biggest elements of this funding package is replacing the portable seating top to bottom with telescopic seats.

“We have 1983 seating, and the technology has vastly improved since then,” said Bedier. “We currently require two days and three massive forklifts to convert our seats, whereas the new design will only require eight hours. This will not just reduce staff labor, but also help open up our calendar.”

The seating changeover will require the venue to close after graduation season from the end of June until late August or early September. This will take place in 2018, since the dome’s 2017 calendar has already been filled.

Events confirmed at the dome for 2017 include Eric Church, Bruno Mars, Roger Waters, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Blake Shelton, and Chris Botti.

“We’re closing in the summer and, unfortunately, it’s a step we have to take,” said Alexander. “We will inevitably miss out on some business during this time, but it’s traditionally a slower period, and it’s a small price to pay.”

With 2017’s occupancy rate already at 65%, Alexander said the venue is in a great situation currently to withstand closing for a few months.

Other renovations including updated restrooms, dressing rooms, fire systems and access control, will take place while the building is still open next year.

Part of the plans call for adding multiple loading docks in an effort to speed up the load-in process and increase efficiencies. Currently, trucks are being driven directly into the building.

“Adding loading docks is a significant improvement, since many artists with larger tours play this venue,” said Alexander.

Exterior renovations include new siding, paint and signage.

The updates are being handled internally, with a project manager and seating company expected to be selected in the coming months.

“We’ve been handicapped by the building, and that won’t be the case anymore,” said Bedier.

Along with touring shows, the Tacoma Dome hosts 125 events and 500,000 visitors annually.

Interviewed for this article:  Tom Alexander, (253) 591-2022; Kim Bedier, (253) 830-6659