Orange Watch: Carrier Dome renovation will bring Syracuse pro sports atmosphere on college campus

dome

Although project specifics and a time line are still months away, Syracuse’s best known building is finally getting its much-needed facelift

Item: Last week’s announcement from the university administration unveiling the first official details concerning the “West Campus Project” of the overall “Campus Framework” initiative was certainly exciting, the scope of the plans brings so many possibilities of what $205M can do to turn an antiseptic concrete facility into a gem envied by the school’s peers. Partnering with experienced stadium renovation architects and designers who have previously transformed older buildings into stunning 21st century sports/entertainment showplaces, there’s no telling how creative the final project will end up. With a permanent roof ending one era and beginning another, combined with the technological advancements that will ensure a more pleasurable competitor and spectator experience, what’s not to like?

“Welcome to the big leagues,” we remember thinking. “Are we really just off the quad of the SU campus, in Syracuse, N.Y.?”

That was the feeling and question we asked ourselves shortly before kickoff in front of the largest crowd for any event in Carrier Dome history (50,564), on that loud, steamy evening of Saturday, Sept. 20, 1980 as Syracuse christened a new era of Orange sports with the Dome’s debut, the ’80 football season opening 36-24 victory against Miami of Ohio.

Oh, it was an electric evening alright, humid and sauna-like for sure with the bulging crowd, but no doubt electric, something that the populace of central New York had never before experienced on the former site of Archbold Stadium.

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Indoor football under an air supported Teflon roof high enough in the sky to accommodate a three-level seating configuration, but low enough to trap the crowd noise inside reverberating off the Teflon panels, thus the eventual nickname the “Loud House.” The scenario was about as far away as you can imagine from the last years at crumbling Archbold with hard, often time’s wet concrete and wood serving as seats, and amenities that were few and far between, in fact the visiting football teams used a sparse locker room inside Archbold Gymnasium, connected by a tunnel to the stadium.

After 36 seasons of use and a few series of renovations over the years to make pleasant cosmetic changes here and there, the confluence of the Dome’s current roof life expectancy coming to an end shortly, combined with the ever-pesky “keeping up with the other guys” mentality, has made the time right to bring the home of Orange sports up to early 21st century standards which means comfort, space, technology, interactivity, and the “wow” factor.

Although specific details are still months away, from what we did learn at the initial announcement with university vice president and chief facilities officer Pete Sala is that a permanent steel-based roof with a modern, fluorine-based plastic product that is a distant cousin of the Teflon family, and the liberal use of glass and amazing LED lighting will be a centerpiece of the project and mirror their event uses in current or soon-to-be opened NFL stadiums and existing NBA/NHL arenas.

Those elements will not only change the city’s skyline for the first time since the original roof was raised in the summer of 1980, but allow for a sorely-lacking, centrally-placed video screen/scoreboard at midfield for full field events and over midcourt for basketball or smaller events, and enable the mounting of large, sophisticated video and audio equipment for concerts and other artistic events which the building currently cannot accommodate.

Best of all from the university’s way of thinking, when the new Dome is completed probably in the 2019-20 time frame, the state-of-the-art structure with all the bells and whistles will be located in the exact same spot, the southwest corner of campus overlooking the city below, still easily accessible to students, faculty and staff, and not so easy for those that need to park someplace and either take the shuttle bus or hoof it on foot.

It will be pretty impressive next decade for a student to routinely and easily stroll from the more stoic academic environment to a top line, loud and glitzy sports and entertainment palace a few hundred yards away as part of everyday campus life.

“This is an exciting moment in the life of Syracuse University,” Sala summed up last week. “The Campus Framework contains bold, innovative ideas that will shape the student experience for generations to come.”

No doubt on the date of the first event in the newly renovated building, there will be plenty of folks inside thinking what an amazing experience and wondering aloud, “are we really just off the quad of the SU campus in Syracuse, N.Y.?”

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Brad Bierman

About Brad Bierman

Now in his fifth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.
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