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Alaska Dome unveils new entryway, new athletic offerings

Devin Kelly
The Dome indoor sports center in South Anchorage unveiled a new entryway in south Anchorage on Tuesday, July 29, 2014. The Dome is introducing new activities, such as girls' flag football and bubble ball soccer in which players are inside inflatable balls. Bob Hallinen / Alaska Dispatch News

After a countdown, a black plastic tarp fell away from the front of the Alaska Dome Tuesday morning, revealing vibrant hues of green and yellow and images of running athletes.

The new entrance of Anchorage’s massive, inflated indoor track and playing fields is eye-catching, designed to project youth and fun. It’s also the latest step in a rebranding effort that began when the Dome emerged from bankruptcy proceedings as its own legal entity in 2012.

Part of that rebranding effort includes broadening the scope of the Dome's offerings. In an unveiling ceremony for the dressed-up front entrance, the CEO of the Dome, Brian Underwood, highlighted the recent additions of girls’ flag football, and bubble ball soccer -- where players bounce around in protective transparent shells -- to a more traditional menu of indoor soccer, softball and running. 

The Dome is also expanding its offerings to include fitness boot camps, Zumba and spin classes, and healthy aging programs for seniors. Coming in 2015: lacrosse.

Aided by stable finances and ownership of the land the facility was built on, the nonprofit organization running the Dome is trying to appeal more broadly to the Anchorage population. The overall message, Underwood said, is that the Dome is more than a rental facility.

“Some think it’s just for soccer, and don’t even know what’s inside,” Underwood said. “The Dome is for everyone ... not just for renters anymore.”

The Dome opened its doors in 2007 with the distinction of being the largest air-supported sports structure in the world. By the time the organization declared bankruptcy in 2010, the facility had been losing money for years, the result of bond financing and escalating payments.  

Today, after debt restructuring, that situation seems to have reversed. In 2013, the Dome generated $1.7 million in revenue, compared with $1.5 million in operating expenses, Underwood said. Through charitable exemption, the Dome does not pay taxes.

Memberships, rentals, donations and advertising within the Dome fund the operations.

It costs $60 a month for an individual membership, and $75 for families. The nonprofit has also pursued new community partnerships, including Kaladi Brothers Coffee Co., which has started selling its coffee in the Dome’s trackside cafe.

In May, the Dome became the owner of the land it sits on, a nearly $4 million asset that the organization can borrow against for expensive future maintenance of the dome canopy. Ownership of the land is also expected to boost the Dome’s grant applications, said general manager Dino Sutherland.

Ever since the 2012 bankruptcy agreement, the nonprofit organization that runs the Dome, Anchorage Sportsplex Inc., has operated independently of the nondenominational ChangePoint ministry, which helped develop and build the facility.

“It’s been an interesting journey for the Dome, certainly some challenges over the years,” Mayor Dan Sullivan, a supporter of the Dome, said at Tuesday’s ceremony. But, he said, the leaders of the organization “took those challenges on headfirst.”

Another visible change is the replacement, more than a year ago, of the Dome’s old red, white and gray logo with a brighter, yellow and green color scheme. With a new logo, the Dome is embarking on a shift from an identity that Underwood described as “very masculine and sports-minded.”

The message is, “there’s more than just athletes that work out here,” Underwood said.

To launch that message, the Dome is hosting a free “Family Day” event on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with attractions like a tire obstacle course, a Cabela’s BB gun range, and the bubble balls.