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Renovated USF Sun Dome opens in time for graduation

Seven-year-old Jackson Diaz receives a lesson in handling a basketball from Doug Woolard, the University of South Florida’s athletic director, Tuesday afternoon in the newly remodeled Sun Dome.

WILLIE J. ALLEN JR. | Times

Seven-year-old Jackson Diaz receives a lesson in handling a basketball from Doug Woolard, the University of South Florida’s athletic director, Tuesday afternoon in the newly remodeled Sun Dome.

TAMPA — University of South Florida senior Ben Krienik missed seeing basketball games at the Sun Dome, which was closed this season for $35 million in renovations.

But on Tuesday, he decided it was worth the inconvenience.

"This is amazing, a night-and-day difference," said Krienik, 22, as he stood on the floor where Bulls basketball teams will play next season — and where his class graduates this weekend.

While the Sun Dome was closed, the Bulls played many of their home games at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

The crown jewel of USF's athletics and entertainment complex is back — and better.

"We have waited a long time for this day to arrive," USF president Judy Genshaft said in remarks before a ribbon-cutting ceremony, which included performances by the university band and cheerleaders.

The upgrades include reconfiguring the 10,000-seat arena to add a center scoreboard, concessions and restrooms in a new concourse level and opportunities for club-level viewing. The upgrades also include a new sound system and new lighting.

In its heyday, the old Sun Dome attracted performers from Frank Sinatra to Billy Joel.

University officials hope the facelift will help them recapture some of that concert and event cachet. They predict the revenue generated by the arena will be more than $4 million a year, triple that of years past. Should the revenues fall short of those estimates, the USF Foundation will cover the shortfall.

Athletic director Doug Woolard called the reopening "a game-changing moment" in USF history.

Workers are continuing to put finishing touches on the Sun Dome, and the new flooring in the arena won't be installed for another month.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374.

Renovated USF Sun Dome opens in time for graduation 05/01/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 8:40pm]
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