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Tacoma Dome Renovation: Upgrading a Signature Attraction

A signature Tacoma, WA attraction has a new look. The Tacoma Dome has undergone a more than $30-million renovation, a project that should result in a more comfortable environment for everything from major concerts to community events.

The Tacoma Dome has been nothing short of versatile since opening in 1983. While it has been used for sporting events—including the 1994-95 home schedule for the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics, who were awaiting the completion of renovations to their home in Seattle—it is best known as a host for large concerts and community gatherings. It has maintained a robust event schedule for decades, but officials realized in the years leading up to the renovation that it was due for changes.

“I’ve been in Tacoma almost six years now and, when I arrived on site, I realized that the building was definitely tired,” said Kim Bedier, director for Tacoma Venues & Events, City of Tacoma. “It certainly needed upgrades as far as the focus on the customer experience and customer comfort.”

This summer, the Tacoma Dome closed to accommodate construction on its first major renovation in its history, one that should address customer comfort. The highlight of those changes is a total seat replacement, as the venue’s old bench seating on the upper level has been swapped out in favor of new individual seats, while the lower level is receiving new retractable seating.

The seating replacement should result in increased comfort, but the new retractable seating should provide a major logistical advantage. In the past, the process of removing seating to accommodate an event’s configuration was a time consuming and labor-intensive process, but the new seating should remove many of those issues.

“These industrial forklifts would take these things out and carry them into our parking lots, if we didn’t need them for the configuration,” Bedier said of the former seating. “It was incredibly labor intensive and took a lot of time to move, so with our seating renovation we’ve not only enhanced patron comfort but have literally opened up dates on our calendar because we can turnaround so much faster.”

Tacoma Dome’s restroom capacity is increasing by 300% to address what had been a major need at the facility, while lighting and sound system upgrades were also a part of the renovation. Tacoma Dome has traditionally had the advantage of being the largest indoor venue in its market, but Bedier and city officials did not see that as a reason to stand pat with the facility.

“We really wanted to make sure that we improved the customer comfort experience,” she said.
“We’re the largest indoor venue in the market so we get shows, but we want people to walk away thinking that it was a great place to go to a show, not just be forced to go there for the show.

While the customer experience improvements might be the most visible enhancements to visitors of the facility, they are not the only major changes. Back-of-house space has been enhanced, including upgrades to the dressing rooms, and improved loading docks have been added.

Concerts will continue to be a major part of Tacoma Dome’s schedule, evidenced in part by a November lineup that includes Drake, VetsAid, two Justin Timberlake shows, Twenty One Pilots, and Fletwood Mac (Elton John will play there next September as part of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour). In addition to concerts, however, Tacoma Dome is positioned to carry out its place as a community gathering place. The ability to host trade shows, graduations, regional sports games, and more is part of Tacoma Dome’s formula for standing out in the marketplace, and the renovations should allow it to continue that mission.

“Our mandate is really to be all things to all people,” Bedier said. “We consider ourselves a community civic gathering space, we don’t have sports tenants and we’re not set up to have them. We don’t have suites, clubs, or that sort of thing, so we know what we are in the marketplace and we want to be the best at that that we can be.”

Tacoma is part of the Seattle metropolitan area, which also includes Seattle’s KeyArena—a venue that is set to undergo a $700 million overhaul led by Oak View Group that will raise it to modern NBA and NHL standards. When asked how she thought the upcoming KeyArena project would affect Tacoma Dome, Bedier said she believed that the facilities will compliment each other.

“I think they’re going to be entirely complimentary, because KeyArena is being renovated with a focus on professional sports tenants, which is fantastic because the Seattle market is dying for them,” she said. “We are a great concert venue, and I think together we can capture any piece of business that is coming through the Pacific Northwest. It’s a growing area, the population is going up, and the economy is pretty strong, so people have money to entertain themselves. I just think, again, we’re friendly competitors but there’s room in the market for both venues to be fantastically successful.”

Tacoma Dome’s history is unique, and its ability to accommodate a range from large concerts to community events is part of its identity. With these changes, Bedier believes it is poised to be the site of many more memories.

“We’re surely blessed that our community and our politicians saw fit to not knock the Tacoma Dome down and try to start over,” Bedier said. “It’s got years of amazing music history, and we’re really excited that we’re able to make this incredible iconic building into what’s going to be a great future for us.”

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