Sunday, December 14, 2008

Retractable Roof is a MUST for Birmingham Dome

I've followed the Birmingham sports scene professionally, in some form or another, for 30 years. And I like to think I've gained some insight into our city's pluses and minuses when it comes to the games people play.

And here is one insight I can offer as the Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex (BJCC) prepares to pick an architect for a proposed $500 million domed stadium: The facility simply MUST have a retractable roof.

College football will be one of the prime events at the stadium. And when people rhapsodize about the popularity of college football in our part of the country, they often forget about one of the main reasons for that: We have gorgeous weather in the fall.

Southerners love football for a variety of reasons. We are the most violent region in the country, and the sport's collisions appeal to our Scotch-Irish heritage.

But I've long contended that Southerners are no more into the actual sport of football than folks from any other region. For Southerners, football is a social event. They love the pageantry, the tailgating, the sights, sounds, and smells.

A large part of that is associated with the weather. In the South, the most pleasant season is the fall--the heart of college football season. And it tends to be dry. I can count on one hand the number of times I've watched a Southern college football game in rainy or cold conditions.

That's why a true dome is such a bad idea for Birmingham--and a retractable roof is a great idea. It would allow the facility to host true indoor events throughout the year, with the roof closed. It would provide a pleasant setting on those rare times when we have bad weather for football. But it would provide an open-air setting, which is so much a part of the Southern football experience.

Consider that UAB football is likely to be one of the stadium's primary tenants. Alabama and Auburn have massive stadiums on their campuses, and they usually pack them, so they don't play in Birmingham anymore. But UAB's fledgling program has no on-campus facility and has called aging Legion Field home.

Most of UAB's crowds are in the 15,000 to 20,000 range. If you put that small a crowd in a true dome, the place is dead. Just look at the Superdome in New Orleans when Tulane University plays there. Tulane draws modest crowds, and with the Superdome, it has probably the worst atmosphere in college football.

But put a UAB crowd in an open-air stadium, on a gorgeous fall afternoon, and you have a nice event.

And here's the kicker: The two finalists for the design job are HOK Inc. of Kansas City and HKS Inc. of Dallas. HOK officials said they think the Birmingham stadium could be built for $410. If BJCC officials opted for a retractable roof, it would add about $30 million to the cost.

Now, $30 million is a lot of money, but it's not much on a $410 project. Apparently, the technology for retractable roofs has improved, bringing the cost down.

HOK has designed a proposed new baseball stadium in Tampa that would use a fabric-based retractable roof. Perhaps a similar plan could be used for Birmingham.

Domed stadiums have been on the decline in sports for years now. Detroit, Houston, Seattle, Minneapolis, Indianapolis, and Tampa are just a few of the cities that have, or plan to, move away from domed stadiums.

For years, Birmingham has been seen as several steps behind Atlanta, its bigger, bolder neighbor to the east. But Atlanta is stuck with the Georgia Dome for the foreseeable future, and some folks already are calling that facility obsolete.

A retractable-roof stadium would be a sign of visionary thinking for our city and give us a leg up on Atlanta. I like the sound of that.

Let's hope BJCC Chairman Clyde Echols and his associates are listening.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Could not agree with you more.....I'm an ex-pat Bhamian who still likes to keep up with the goings on...... here is an email that I sent a few days ago to BJCC director, Larry Langford, Gene Hallman of Bruno Team (Alabama Sports Foundation), and HOK of Kansas City (where I live now..... I have no connection at all to HOK)

We need to get influential people involved to get this changed. The technology is there to easily use a retractable roof stadium as a convention floor... there is retractable floor technology, even with natural turf whereby even hockey could be played when roof closed. How could the powers that be so dumb not to make this a signature facility. Should we get Finebaum to raise the issue? Anyway here is the email below ...... sorry for length of this.
...sent to HOK and the above public officials......

I am currently a Kansas City resident, but am a Birmingham native and longtime resident there. Here is a copy of an email that was sent to the director of the BJCC. I am very glad that HOK won the project; your design looks very nice........however,please consider convincing the Birmingham folks that the facility should have a retractable roof. Over a 30 or more year period I cannot see how this addition would be an overburden to the taxpayers of Alabama, especially considering interest rates now. Of course, I understand that your design would have to be revamped, but I'm guessing you already had ideas for the complex had the leaders decided to go w/ a retractable roof. email below.....

Director of BJCC,

With interest rates so incredibly low, it is still not too late to put a retractable roof on the dome like the Lucas Oil facility in Indianapolis. The turf will be covered for conventions. WE HAVE GOT TO MAKE THIS A RETRACTABLE ROOF STADIUM.... THE TYPE OF FACILITY( the idea, not the design) BEING PROPOSED IS 20 YEARS OUT OF DATE. With interest rates so low we could now build a retractable roof stadium/convention complex for probably not much more than the guesstimated cost ( plus customary fudge factor incurred over last 2 years)of the proposed dome. Potential for OPEN AIR STADIUM IS KEY. See link below....Thanks. Please consider would set Bham apart in the Southeast.

Bham native