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USF's Sun Dome will spiff up for spectators

As the number of entertainment arenas in the Tampa Bay area grows, the University of South Florida's (USF) Sun Dome doesn't want to be left behind.

To help stay competitive, the Sun Dome will undergo a $7.4-million renovation next year to make it more user-friendly for spectators who attend basketball games, concerts and other events.

"The competitive market around here is going to get tougher. It's going to be the Tampa Coliseum, it's going to be an outdoor amphitheater," said Sun Dome director Mike LaPan. "It's not going to get any easier. We want to take the opportunity now to seize the moment."

Among the planned additions are lobbies for spectators to congregate away from the main arena, more concession areas with a greater variety of food choices, additional restrooms and an auxiliary gymnasium.

"Right now, all the concession stands are portable. They are tucked back into a corner. The restrooms are overrun with lines. We have the main arena, and that is it," LaPan said.

Officials say they are reacting to feedback from the more than 3-million people who have been to the Sun Dome since its opening in 1980.

"When the Sun Dome was being built, there were cost overruns and things were cut out," LaPan said. "What we are doing with the additions is trying to make the facility more comfortable for patron usage."

An architect recently was selected to design the project, which is expected to begin in January 1993.

Under the new plan, the dome's four entrances will be enclosed, and concession stands will be built into each.

"Basically, we will have four mini-concourses for people to go to and relax," LaPan said. "We are going to have areas where specialty food is sold."

With the addition of the lobby space, LaPan said he believes the Sun Dome's current no-smoking policy will be changed.

"We do our best to enforce that (the policy), but at concerts, when the lights go out, it is a problem for us. We are hoping that the additions will enable us to provide people with designated smoking areas," LaPan said. "We don't have many events that are less than two hours, and it is hard to force anybody not to smoke for two hours."

The revamped Sun Dome also will include three additional restrooms. Two will be women's rooms and the third will be a men's room that can be converted to a women's room.

"We realize that we need more women's restrooms, and we are taking this opportunity to make more space available for women," LaPan said.

When the additions are completed, ticket sales will be consolidated at one box office location with eight windows, instead of at every entrance.

An auxiliary gymnasium will be built off the west side of the Sun Dome and will be used by USF's basketball and volleyball teams.

A stipulation in the contract between the state university system and Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum (HOK), the architect on the job, is that the dome must be able to operate normally during construction. HOK also has worked on the Florida Suncoast Dome and the Tampa Convention Center. Construction is scheduled to be completed by April 1994.