SU Athletics

Looking back at the Carrier Dome’s creation, nearly 40 years later

Brandon Bielinski | Staff Photographer

The Carrier Dome roof is expected to be renovated in the near future.

Whenever they could, Syracuse football coaches avoided showing recruits SU’s outdated home field. Built in 1907, Archbold Stadium constantly needed repairs before home games. For years, it crumbled. One day in the mid-1970s, Ronald Cavanagh walked a Syracuse football recruit into the Archbold Stadium locker room anyway. When a rat darted across a pipe, the recruit’s mother gasped. The athlete committed to Ohio State.

“It was then that we knew we had to start thinking about a new structure, pronto,” said Cavanagh, a former SU professor and member of the SU Athletic Policy Board, which influenced the university’s decision to construct the Carrier Dome.

Over the next few years, SU drew up the possibilities of building an open-air stadium on Skytop or in a lot off Bridge Street in East Syracuse, breaking ground at the New York State Fairgrounds or demolishing Archbold and constructing a dome in its place. For months, Syracuse University was at odds with the government and community members. After an unsuccessful attempt to build on Skytop, SU decided on the Carrier Dome, which hosted its first game in September 1980.

Since then, about 18 million people have walked through its turnstiles. In the near future, the place SU calls home will undergo some of its most sweeping renovations, estimated to cost $205 million. Chief among them are a new roof and air conditioning system. With that in mind, here’s a look back nearly four decades in time at the creation of one of New York state’s signature landmarks.

In crumbles

In November 1979, SU fans and workmen dismantled Archbold’s goalposts and removed the turf. By December, cranes and wrecking balls demolished the concrete stands. On Jan. 20, 1979, the last remnant of the Arch on Irving Avenue was torn down.

 “Vigorous Opposition”

All of the approvals and permits from state and local governments were in place for a new, open-air structure to erect on Skytop field. But on the morning the construction workers pitched in their shovels, local residents laid down at the site in protest. The “unanticipated vigorous opposition,” mostly from residents, thought Colvin Street would turn into a major thoroughfare.

“All of the work had been done,” former SU administrator Molly Broad said. “Yet the people did not want a stadium in their neighborhood.”

archive-photo-1

Daily Orange File Photo

Then-SU Chancellor Melvin Eggers granted the locals’ wishes by canceling the plans to build at Skytop. He didn’t want to displease them, Broad said, so the university went with option two: Build on the site of what was known as “Old Archbold.”

Making the deal

The university, in conjunction with Carrier Corp., New York state Senator and SU School of Law graduate Tarky Lombardi and the government, got a bargain on the deal, Broad said. The Carrier Dome cost under $27 million to build. As part of the deal, SU gave up its land in the Adirondacks. (Then-Carrier Corp. chief executive officer Mel Holm gave $2.75 million to the university in exchange for naming rights in perpetuity.)

The foundation

By April 1979, the Carrier Dome site had been graded and leveled for the start of the Dome project. More than 100 men worked daily, a number that jumped to about 200 by project’s end. They erected pound-in-plate walls and pre-cast concrete box columns. By July 1979, 15 percent of the Carrier Dome was completed. The project, which created more than 250 jobs and $10 million in local expenditure, was completed on time in every stage. It was completed in the summer of 1980.

Dome debut

In the Dome’s inaugural event, a Sept. 20 football game between SU and Miami of Ohio, temperatures hovered around 80 degrees. Bruce Laidlaw, class of 1995, had double-knit polyester slacks stuck to his legs

“It was ironically incredibly hot and sticky,” Laidlaw recalled. “I couldn’t move. And it was absolutely packed to the gills.”

archive-photo-2

Daily Orange File Photo

The naming rights belong to Carrier Corp., a Connecticut-based air conditioning company. The irony of such a firm sponsoring a facility that does not have AC may baffle some, but AC was not installed during construction because builders considered Syracuse’s cold climate.

Telling the head man 

Molly Broad had the “distinct pleasure” of telling SU head coach Jim Boeheim that the then-Orangemen would no longer play its home games in Manley Field House. Boeheim liked the tight-knit environment Manley provided and the home advantage it gave SU.

“He was like a baby crying that he didn’t want to go to the Dome,” Broad remembered, laughing. “He went in anyway and had a smashing success.”

The years since

By the 1990s, other large universities had built more modern facilities than the Carrier Dome. Nonetheless, the Dome has hosted thousands of SU athletic events — including Syracuse football’s upset of No. 1 Nebraska in 1984 and a slew of NCAA Tournament games — concerts and trade shows.

Comments

Top Stories