As it stands: Despite 3 decades of weathering Carrier Dome remains face of Syracuse
Pete Sala began his career working in the Carrier Dome on breaks from college. He would climb to the top of the Dome, the top of the city of Syracuse, and shovel off the snow that had built up on the roof.
In Syracuse, it is no secret that snow is a constant. For Sala, the Dome’s current operations director, alleviating that snow from the backbone of the Dome became a constant as well. As has the structure, itself.
‘This building will be here as long as we want it,’ Sala said.
The Dome has become a symbol of the city of Syracuse throughout the past 30 years — and the predominant symbol on the Syracuse skyline for three decades.
As the Dome turns 30, questions regarding its longevity and its future are as alive as they have been for years.
Will the Dome be here for its 40th? Its 50th? Will the Dome last?
As of now, no official plans exist for a replacement. But even without a plan, everyday maintenance is key to the Dome, like it has been since Sala first started shoveling.
Sala has always made sure to keep the snow — snow that could and has led to cracks in the Dome’s foundation — from reaching the roof’s trenches.
‘We still do that — remove the snow from the flat part of the roof,’ Sala said. ‘For 30 years, we’ve tried to keep weight off this roof.’
Come Saturday, when the Dome celebrates its 30th anniversary during Syracuse football’s home opener against Maine, the calls from fans for a new Syracuse stadium will exist. They have existed for years from Dome detractors, and even from some within the university and athletic program.
But if you ask Sala — if you ask the people who are the backbone of the Dome and if you ask its current inhabitants — it is here to stay.
It can last.
Asked whether he would prefer an outdoor stadium to his playing experience inside the Dome, SU running back Delone Carter responded quickly and with certainty.
Said Carter: ‘I like the Dome. Ever since I’ve been here.’
It was just as well that Sala got his first taste of the Dome through a maintenance job. As the Dome’s operations director, he oversees everything related to that facility and the rest of Syracuse’s athletic complexes.
Maintenance requires a yearly hunt for any problems. Sala has a wish list for possible improvements, but those require additional funding. But for Sala, the Dome is still in great condition, despite its age.
‘I think the life expectancy is as long as you maintain it for,’ Sala said.
As far as replacing the Dome, it would require a considerable financial outlay. So far, administrators have only kicked around speculation and nothing more. But with the Dome’s public profile so great and profitable, the question rests on whether it’s worth talking replacement at all.
The maintenance runs the gamut of the Dome’s needs. Sometimes, Sala spends his days trying to find cracks in the foundation. Each crack — no matter the size, he says — gets chased down.
The snow removal from the roof with which Sala is so familiar is one of the facility’s liability issues — SU wishes to avoid snow dropping from the roof onto passing cars and causing traffic accidents.
‘It’s a tough building to maintain in the winter,’ Sala said.
Bigger projects take up part of the Dome’s maintenance budget as well. About 10 years ago, the Dome received a new roof. The old membrane managed to last longer than expected. But the facility needed a new one, along with new cables to support the membrane. Replacing the roof will always remain the Dome’s largest upkeep need, Sala said.
‘You need to put money back into a facility,’ Sala said. ‘You don’t build a facility to walk away from it.’
Each year, SU invites back the same engineering firm that designed the Dome, Geiger Engineers, to conduct reports and investigate the structure’s facility.
‘I would expect with reasonable attention going in the future, there’s really no limit to the lifespan (of the Dome),’ said Geiger Chief Executive Officer Dave Campbell.
Concentrating on improvements, and putting aside maintenance, Sala’s wish list for changes at the Dome includes:
New and improved ‘points of sales,’ such as concession stands and souvenir shops. Sala toured brand new stadiums, including those near New York City, to help shape ideas.
Electronic ribbon boards — something between a scoreboard and a computer screen — could connect around the Dome. Each piece would be customizable and allow for greater fan interaction. Scoreboards should be replaced soon, too.
Field turf could be laid down to give the Dome a different playing experience.
Concourses are narrow at the Dome, and expanding would be the ideal situation, Sala said, but cost and construction may be prohibitive.
The Dome lacks air conditioning, a defect noticeable when Syracuse weather warms up. But an air-conditioning system would cost nearly $7 million to install.
Any projects that go on the drawing board would see construction starting in the next 10 to 12 years, right around the Dome’s 40th anniversary. New projects focus on improving fan experience, which in turn generates revenue for the Dome.
‘You’ve got to take care of the people who come to enjoy the experience here,’ Sala said.
The Dome’s maintenance costs were not immediately available, said SU’s Chief Financial Officer Lou Marcoccia. The costs change based on the number of events held in the Dome. But with its longevity considered, Marcoccia figures the Dome has been worth its costs.
As the man responsible for the university’s financial responsibilities, Marcoccia holds a large stake in the Dome’s future.
At different points, Marcoccia said, different university officials talked about replacing the Dome. But that would take an expenditure the university isn’t ready for, Marcoccia said.
In 1980, the Dome cost $27 million. Today, the same exact structure would cost at least $90 million, said Campbell, Geiger’s CEO.
More than 50 percent of the Dome’s building costs came from the state of New York. SU found a champion for the project in then-Gov. Hugh Carey, who pushed for the project’s completion and funding today.
It would most likely take a modern champion in state government to grant SU the funding needed for a new facility.
‘If somebody showed up with that kind of money, then we might consider it,’ Marcoccia said.
The Dome continues to be quite cost-effective, Marcoccia said. For example, university personnel don’t need to be sent downtown to another facility to fix the Dome or to set up for an event. The athletic program continues to hope the Dome raises its profile, too.
‘Obviously, the Carrier Dome makes a tremendous impact on the athletic programs,’ Marcoccia said.
The effect of the Dome on Orange athletics is, perhaps, immeasurable. Immeasurable enough that even if the university collected the funds necessary, it could elect to remain with what it has. Its most homely and well-known symbol — from within the confines of the Dome, itself, to walls and doors across campus.
If SU found the funding necessary, it might choose to simply stick with what it has. The Dome rose to iconographic standards as a symbol for both the university and the city, said Amy Falkner, an associate dean of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and an expert on media strategy and advertising.
Just walk into Falkner’s office, and the point is proven. On her office door, she taped a picture of the Dome’s interior during a sold-out Dome basketball game.
‘To me — if I’m selling Syracuse, that’s the picture I want,’ Falkner said, pointing to that picture of the Dome on the door.
The Dome’s exact worth, as an advertising and branding tool, is hard to quantify because it is so often used, Falkner said.
But whatever the exact figure may be, the selling point for the city since 1980 has grown. For the basketball program, for the football program, for the university and even for the city, the Dome is, perhaps, the face of Syracuse.
And after 30 years, despite plans for improvements, it continues to be.
It is what the athletic program, university and city peddle to tourists and natives.
It is Syracuse.
Said Falkner: ‘Anyone who looks at (SU’s) website or at our publications realizes that the Dome is what we’re selling.’
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