Jan 21, 2014 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
More than 30,000 packed the Carrier Dome on Jan. 11 as SU’s undefeated men’s basketball juggernaut dismantled North Carolina. Way more, perhaps up to 35,000, will be on hand next Saturday night for the arrival of Duke, even if they’re not as imposing as Blue Devil teams from seasons past.
They do this amid increased noise about the future of big sports facilities in this fair city, as the Dome, which will turn 34 years old in September, might not have a long-range future.
Many options are on the table in the talks that have started among some SU and government officials. They run from an upgrading of the Dome’s physical structure, roof to seats, to a new arena that could host the Crunch and concerts, to a 40,000-seat stadium.
First, acknowledge that the Dome is still here for a while. Any arena, or stadium, is several years down the road, and would require hundreds of millions of dollars, either from the university or the state, and you know how much people love stadiums with public funding involved.
Also remember that the ACC welcomed SU into its fold knowing that its all-important football festivities did not measure up to the league’s incumbents. That brings up the “arms race” analogy where some feel that the school must get a new stadium, with all the modern amenities and other fixings, if it wants to really compete.
Then look around the country. In baseball, the Atlanta Braves figured that Turner Field wasn’t good enough, so they’re moving out to Cobb County – just 20 years after the old park opened. In the same town, the Falcons want out of the Georgia Dome, opened in 1992. Multi-purpose stadiums in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Cincinnati barely lasted 30 years before they moved on.
The shelf life for NBA and NHL arenas isn’t too long, either. You get three decades (Philadelphia’s Spectrum, the Fabulous Forum in Los Angeles) if you’re lucky. Miami’s original Arena, first home of the Heat, barely lasted two decades. Ditto the first arena in Orlando.
Put into that context, the Dome has proven durable, and staying protected from Central New York’s fierce weather elements proves helpful on those nights in, say, November or March, where it can get really wet, or cold, or miserable, or all three. Also, enough updates have taken place indoors to keep the place quite functional.
It all comes down to this – what does this community want? And what does it need?
Having thought about it, the best scenario would be to do upgrades to the Dome itself – chairback seats, and perhaps a new roof. No, it isn’t cheap, but it sure is a lot cheaper than building a new stadium from scratch.
Don’t underestimate the iconic status the Dome carries beyond this area. It helps identify Syracuse beyond the cold, snowy winters, which is priceless. With the right planning, there’s every reason to think this building can prove useful for at least 20 more years.
If anything needs to be built, an arena, of 10,000 seats or so, is the best course. The Crunch do need to get out of the War Memorial, and such a venue might bring concerts to Syracuse that normally bypass this region because we don’t have an arena similar to Rochester, and not even close to the big facilities in Buffalo and Albany.
Also, such an arena could make for quite a venue for high school sports championships, both of the Section III and state variety. Volleyball, basketball, wrestling, hockey – this area could bid for all of those state championships, and have a real chance to get it.
Of course, getting such a project off the ground, or even making the necessary upgrades to keep the Dome a vibrant facility, requires something that, at times, is sorely lacking in this region – namely, a “can do” spirit.
People look for every excuse in the world not to try something like this, and lacking that ambition, great ideas go into the wastebasket, and this area suffers. All the drama that surrounded Destiny USA (which didn’t turn out that bad, did it?) and the various I-81 projects that could, at last, reconnect downtown and the university, is proof of what can happen when the naysayers take over.
And why drum up that negativity when, as we’ve seen, there’s a significant boost in businesses of all types opening in downtown Syracuse? Clearly, there’s a burgeoning market for something beyond an old stadium, no matter how iconic, and a much older downtown arena.
At the very least, these discussions ought to take place. SU, the state, the city, the county, private developers, citizens – all the players should get involved. Let’s hash it out, see what we have, see what is needed, and then do what is practical and can help this community prosper a bit more.
Having a big sporting event, like the SU-Duke game, once a year is nice. But having a whole lot of special events each year, in a revamped Dome or new arena, is even better.