TAMPA, Fla. - When renovations to the Sun Dome in Tampa Bay, Fla., are finished, the only thing that University of South Florida student athletes and fans will recognize is the outside walls and roof.
The Sun Dome is currently in the process of a $35.6 million overhaul that will see the entire inside of the building rebuilt from scratch.
After more than 30 years of hosting men’s and women’s basketball as well as hundreds of events per year, university officials decided the arena needed a major upgrade to remain competitive in the athletic, concert and convention market.
“We looked at the condition of what was the existing Sun Dome,” Associate Athletics Director in charge of Marketing and Events Scott Glaser said. “We did a feasibility study to see what it would cost to renovate and what it would cost to replace the building. At the time, it was before the market changed, when construction materials and costs were much higher and we weren’t able to afford a new facility.”
The university hired Populous architects to design a brand new inside of the approximately 10,000-seat arena.
When renovations are finished in mid-April, the most noticeable difference will be a concourse that did not exist in the old Sun Dome. Designers elected to replace pull-out bleachers with permanent ones in the arena’s second level, creating room for a concourse featuring concessions, merchandise and bathrooms.
A new LED scoreboard hanging over center court will complement display and ribbon boards in each corner of the arena. The corner display boards were on the middle concourse level, but will be moved as those locations are filled in with seats. The boards will now be on the upper level and the ribbon boards will be placed together to run the length of the basketball court.
In addition to the video technology, there will be more than 100 television monitors distributed throughout the building.
In the prerenovation Sun Dome, the lower bowl was box-shaped like most high school gymnasiums. The new lower bowl was designed in an oval shape to improve fans’ views and acoustics. The seats in the lower bowl will all be retractable.
Sun Dome’s new general manager Trent Merritt, who was hired as part of USF’s new deal with international management company Global Spectrum to manage day-to-day operations of the arena, said that being able to move the seats will make the arena more attractive to concert acts.
“It allows us to be flexible with what we’re looking to do with the floor,” Merritt said. “Whether it’s from a seating standpoint or general admission standpoint, you will find shows where they want to get as many people on the floor as possible. That can make the difference between them booking at one arena over another and ultimately the gross dollars at the end of the show.”
Merritt said another aspect of the new-look Sun Dome that will be attractive to performers is the new dressing rooms and green rooms in the back of the house.
“All these things are significant upgrades over the past,” Merritt said. “They are going to allow the performers and artists and show organizers to enjoy their time for the 18 or 20 hours they spend here.”
While the Sun Dome undergoes construction, the USF men’s basketball team has played the majority of its home games minutes away at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Games at the forum have drawn light crowds between 2,500 and 4,500 fans. The Bulls have also played at the University of Tampa and Lakeland Center.
“It has been a lot of logistics to get the calender set,” Glaser said. “We refer to it as ‘The Road Show.’ My event management staff has a box truck where we have the courtside LED’s and bench.
We do the best we can to turn it green and gold to give the team the best home advantage we can. It still feels like a road game, even though we’re still in Tampa.”
The new-look Sun Dome will host its first event in early May when it holds the university’s commencement ceremonies. Merritt said the first concerts will begin in June.