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UI plans face lift for Kibbie Dome

 (Photo Smith / The Spokesman-Review)
Akey (Photo Smith / The Spokesman-Review)

MOSCOW, Idaho – Lauding its massive Kibbie Dome as a unique activities center, the University of Idaho on Wednesday announced a major renovation to the campus’ most recognizable structure.

With a December 2010 completion target, the $52 million project will bring the building up to safety code and add amenities such as suites and a Vandals hall of fame.

“By doing this, we class the joint back up again,” head football coach Robb Akey said. “And there’ll be nothing like it anywhere in our conference or this side of the country. It makes to be an awesome deal.”

The Kibbie Dome is used for sports just 22 percent of the time, UI athletics director Rob Spear said. The structure also plays host to the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival and graduation ceremonies.

But the targeted $35 million of private funding – officials would not say if the university already has big donors – will go toward cosmetic upgrades for athletic events.

The university’s share is $17 million out of bonds for the safety and code renovations.

Improvements include:

•A remodeled concourse with concessions and a Vandals hall of fame corner;

•Lowering the playing surface by 10 to 12 feet to allow more seating;

•3,600 additional seats, bringing the Kibbie Dome’s capacity to about 20,000 for football games;

•A real-grass football field;

•Translucent east and west walls to let in natural light;

•A 9,000-square-foot Vandal Hospitality Club lounge, with a terrace and cushy seating at the east end zone; and

•Vandal Club seats at the 50-yard line, plus box seats and suites above.

Spear said he expects an additional $800,000 to $1 million in athletics revenue a year from increased attendance and premiere ticket prices for suites.

“There is a steely-eyed business plan behind this thing that will give us the confidence that we’re going to get our revenue directly,” UI President Tim White said.

But this past season, football games drew an average of about 12,150 fans to the Kibbie Dome – decidedly fewer than its capacity of about 16,400. Chris Murray, the university’s advancement vice president, said he believes there is demand for premier seating.

Nicer facilities should make it easier to recruit football players to UI, said Akey.

The building creates a considerable home-field advantage because fans sound louder in an enclosed space.

Opened in 1975, the Kibbie Dome is one of two indoor, on-campus, domed stadiums in the nation among Division I-A schools.

“Whether you’re an athlete or not,” Akey said, “it starts the first day you get here to the final day you’re here. Everything revolves around the Kibbie Dome. The Kibbie Dome is the center of everything.”

Depending on how quickly the university raises money, it would like to present construction plans to the Board of Regents – which approved the renovation last month – in February 2009. With a late-2010 finishing date, the project could disrupt the football season, the jazz festival, graduation and other events.

White said the university does not yet have a plan for finding alternative venues during construction. The graduation ceremony would most likely be held outdoors.

Football games could be held in the dome with the sides torn out, Akey said, though he hoped the construction would not affect the season at all.

“There will be alternatives in this community. I think we’ll find ways to hold all of those events. We have no intention to cancel anything,” White said. “It’ll be a little clumsy for a couple years, perhaps.”

The project is the university’s largest capital undertaking and is the first step in an overall improvement to Vandals athletics, Spear said. The next goal is to find a separate venue – an add-on to the Kibbie Dome, a stand-alone arena or another renovation – for basketball and volleyball.

“We’re just not going to stop,” he said. “We can’t afford to stop. We need to catch up and do a better job with our facilities.

“And it’s important, though, whatever we do with athletic facilities we benefit the entire campus. Which is what this (Kibbie Dome) project is doing.”