August 18, 2011 in Sports

Vandals show off Kibbie Dome update

By The Spokesman-Review
 

MOSCOW, Idaho – Taken altogether, the facelift is striking. Once perpetually dark, outdated and structurally unsafe, the Kibbie Dome looks, in the words of University of Idaho football coach Robb Akey, “much classier than what it was before.”

Natural light now filters through panels on the east and west walls during the day. A roomy press box has been built on the north side of the Dome, and a new club room – surrounded by eight suites, eight smaller loge boxes and 217 premium seats – is perched where the press box used to be on the south end.

These are the most noticeable updates, after two major construction projects, to the 40-year stadium that flanks the western portion of the Idaho campus. The renovation has taken three years and cost roughly $27 million … and might not be complete.

If athletic director Rob Spear’s long-term plan comes to fruition, another round of construction inside the Kibbie Dome – this time to add seating – will kick off in the next few years. Extra capacity could come by lowering the field or adding overhanging sections in the corners of the Dome.

But Spear acknowledges that the third phase of the project likely won’t happen unless UI shows it can attract more fans – consistently.

“I think what we’ve seen is by taking this step and completing this second phase, it’s opened up some other opportunities,” Spear said. “Now the key (to) all of that is our Vandal fans have to show up and help me sell this place out. And once we sell it out, then we have some leverage.”

The Vandals have lagged behind their counterparts in the Western Athletic Conference in football attendance, partly because the Dome only holds 16,000 (it has become smaller by about 500 seats with the remodel) and partly because the program was woeful for a decade before the last two seasons under Akey.

Small crowds predate the lean years of Tom Cable and Nick Holt too. Back when UI was in the hunt for Big Sky Conference titles in the 1980s and early ’90s, “we didn’t draw well then either,” Spear noted.

“So I think it’s a matter of continuing to control what we can control,” he said, “and that is putting a good product on the field, creating some game atmosphere, improving facilities and then people will start getting excited.”

The eight suites, which hold 12 to 15 each, have already been sold. Two of the eight loge boxes that seat four people were still available earlier this week, as were 20 of the 217 club seats.

Those with box or club tickets will have access to catered food in the upper-level club room, while menus and the club room will be available to fans in suites. In each case, alcohol – barred in the rest of the Dome during game day – can be purchased and carried anywhere in the glass-enclosed club area.

The premium seating section cost about $7 million by itself. All the funds were raised through private donors, including separate $1 million gifts from Litehouse Foods and Bud and June Ford.

In all, nearly 100 donors gave at the major gift level – $25,000 or more – according to Chris Murray, UI’s vice president for advancement.

“It really is a reflection of the compassion our donors feel about the University of Idaho,” Murray said. “The donors are the real stars.”

The enhanced Kibbie Dome, where life safety issues have also been addressed, goes beyond a more inviting environment for football and basketball games. The stadium is also used for the annual Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, commencement every spring and concerts.

“The great thing about this project is that … the Kibbie Dome is an iconic structure on our campus,” said Murray, adding that many prospective students start at the Dome during recruiting visits and end their time at UI inside the Dome at commencement.

“We’ve made it a nice facility,” Spear said. “We’ve enhanced it for everything besides athletics. Those seats will be beneficial to the Jazz Festival or any other event that we have in here. The club room is going to be able to utilized by a lot of entities on campus.

“So the beauty is we’ve got it fixed.”

UI will show off the remodeled Dome during a ribbon cutting in front private donors tonight, while public tours are available on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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