As you sit in I-5 construction traffic alongside the Tacoma Dome late this summer, you will see people dangling from safety ropes armed with buckets of Simple Green, scrub brushes, and water hoses giving the Dome’s grit-and-green-algae-covered roof another cleaning.
I hope it reminds you of the first two primary objectives — economic development and curb appeal — advocated by the Dome’s original, civic-minded boosters.
And I want you to envision and support a new possibility that recaptures the spirit of those two objectives for a new era in Tacoma.
Boosters in the late 1970s Tacoma wanted a mini-dome — for economic development of a city mired in economic doldrums. And, boy, has it delivered — as a concert venue, trade show destination, sports arena, community gathering place, and so much more — as a meaningful attraction that has enriched the region.
Once the dome idea caught on, civic leaders faced a second decision: Where do we put it? Tucked in close to downtown, where visitors could walk to restaurants and shops? Next to Cheney Stadium, where vacant land made building a cinch?
No. Tacoma took the hardest route possible by wiping out the entire Hawthorne neighborhood and fighting the inevitable lawsuit of the angry residents for one reason only — curb appeal.
Let’s face it. Without the Dome where it stands, Tacoma isn’t much to look at from the highway. Tacoma needed a shiny object right where the Dome now stands to capture the adoring eyes of passersby so they wouldn’t focus on the belching pulp mill and gritty industrial face of the 1983 city.
Bravo! Then curb appeal died as a prime objective. Scour the Tacoma Dome files at the Tacoma Public Library’s Northwest Room, and one thing becomes clear. More words were written about what the roof’s artistic design should look like than any other Dome issue, including its creation, location, construction, or function.
At first, we did it right. We thought big. We hired three independent art experts. They would oversee an international competition for artists to submit designs for nearly 6 acres of blank canvas to create the curb appeal that would make the Dome more than just another arena. Three finalists — artists of renown — delivered. Any one would have set Tacoma apart. Lighted neon geometric designs by Stephen Antonakos. A giant orange-and-yellow flower by Andy Warhol. Constellations reminiscent of the night sky by Richard Haas.
The neon gained an edge. Then things went haywire. Politics, public disagreement on a favorite, and a can’t-do attitude prevailed. Then Jimmy Zarelli, patriarch of the construction company building the Dome, announced if anyone drilled holes in the largest wood-domed roof in the world to mount neon, he wouldn’t guarantee the roof against leaks or damage.
So Tacoma chickened out. We settled for blue-and-white triangles over the curb appeal of something greater — and the additional worldwide economic attention it would have driven.
It didn’t take long to realize the error. Less than six months after the Dome opened, AC/DC arrived for one of the first blockbuster rock concerts. In the crowd that night was a local soldier who had convinced his 14-year-old girlfriend to conceal a flare in her shirt. Once inside, the soldier shot the flare, which smoldered for some 36 hours before anyone realized it was burning a hole in the roof.
Those who climbed onto the roof to check the damage noticed something else — dang, the roof already had gotten so grimy that the diamonds looked faded. The soldier got three months for his crime. Tacoma has gotten more than three decades of a Dome whose design can’t hide dirt.
Since then, Dome leaders have explored a lot of cleaning ideas. A giant wand, similar to a windshield wiper. A riding mower with its blades replaced by scrubbers. Paint engineered to mimic the ultra-slick lotus leaf so the dirt would simply rinse away.
Enough. Let’s recapture our prime directives. Let’s put the late Andy Warhol’s flower on the Dome as curb appeal for a resurgent city. The economic returns on an iconic, larger-than-life Warhol would flow from Tacoma’s new place on the art-world map. A grassroots movement has generated some buzz for this concept over the last few years.
But the $5 million price tag, a supportive city hall says, has to come from private fundraising. So let’s get the bankroll started. Let’s show the local art institutions that should bankroll the larger fundraising effort that this community has passion for the flower so they will pick up the fundraising charge. I have started a GoFundMe account — Redo Tacoma Dome Roof with Warhol Flower — for the express purpose of providing our first contributions for this makeover. If the roof redo fails to happen after two years, our funds would go to Tacoma Creates — the voter-approved initiative to make the arts more accessible to underserved youth.
Who’s with me? Here’s the link if you are: gofundme.com/redo-tacoma-dome-roof-with-warhol-flower.