A last-minute deal orchestrated by a prominent Anchorage developer will repair the collapsed roof of the indoor sports facility The Dome for a November re-opening, officials said Friday.
Jonathan Rubini, the chairman and CEO of JL Properties and one of Alaska's wealthiest people, said Friday he had stepped in to finance the repairs and settle claims by bondholders.
A new laser system will be installed on the roof to detect deflation. Officials also pledged to "make whole" the hundreds of people whose memberships were disrupted by the January roof collapse.
Since it opened a decade ago, thousands of Anchorage adults and children have used the 200,000-square-foot facility for soccer leagues, running, early-season baseball and softball, and a variety of other sports, activities and community events.
The collapse of the roof on Jan. 21 set off a massive scramble among athletic organizations, from the UAA track and cross-country teams to the Anchorage School District. Tens of thousands of Alaskans were entering The Dome on a weekly basis.
At a Friday morning news conference in front of The Dome's green-and-yellow front entrance, Rubini recalled years of running on the track and watching his daughter's soccer games.
"Until we lost The Dome, we probably didn't appreciate how important it was for the local community," said Rubini, who was joined at the news conference by Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.
He also made clear how close the deal, expected to amount to roughly $6 million, was to not happening.
"It was quite a suspense story," Rubini said. "It came down to literally hours, trying to put together a deal."
With tight construction timelines, it's likely The Dome would not have re-opened if the work wasn't done this season, Rubini said.
The Dome's roof collapsed Jan. 21 in a storm that dropped more than a foot of snow on the city. At one point, eight people were on the roof clearing snow, but it wasn't enough. About 4 p.m., management evacuated the roughly 200 people inside the building. The final collapse came just before midnight.
Since then, managers have been tangling with insurers, manufacturers and bondholders. There was a lot of scrutiny about what happened, said Alice Federenko, the acting CEO of Anchorage Sportsplex Inc., the nonprofit that runs the facility. Rubini called it "an absolute legal Gordian knot."
The collapse opened a perilous chapter in the already-fraught history of what's been billed as the largest air-supported sports structure in the world.
Built by the nondenominational ChangePoint ministry, the facility opened in 2007 and ran for three years before going bankrupt.
It emerged from bankruptcy proceedings as a nonprofit organization, funded by memberships, rentals, donations and advertising. But financial problems didn't go away. Even before the roof collapse, Rubini was in talks with Federenko about stepping in.
Rubini said he had to evaluate construction risk and piece together "a complicated jigsaw puzzle" of financing and settling demands from bondholders.
The deal announced Friday is expected to amount to roughly $6 million to repair the Dome and settle the claims of bondholders, Rubini said. He said that's an estimate, and the full scope of the damage won't be known until the roof is re-inflated.
The Minneapolis-based manufacturer of The Dome will be in Anchorage next week to help the contractor, Davis Construction, make the repairs, said Federenko. She said passers-by should notice air filling up The Dome in the next few weeks.
Rubini said he secured a bank loan through Wells Fargo, and he and his wife, Clare Bertucio, will make a personal philanthropic loan of $1 million. Another $3 million is coming from a public-private investment fund that Rubini helped found, The Anchorage Opportunity Fund — drawing from both private investors and a city investment fund called the 49th State Fund.
The Dome owed about $12 million to bondholders. In the financial deal, a total of $2.75 million will be paid to settle those claims and interests, according to Tim Woolston of Northwest Strategies, acting as a spokesman for the nonprofit that runs The Dome.
Berkowitz, the mayor, said he has already signed off on an expedited investment from the 49th State Fund. He also said the city would help managers avoid permitting delays.
"We are going to rise up again," Berkowitz said.
The Dome will remain a nonprofit organization as a result of the financial deal, Rubini said. He said he expects it to be owned either by a nonprofit or by the city in the long term.
Rubini also said he'll be working on setting up a "Friends of The Dome" group in the coming months to elicit community support for the facility. He also indicated that he has ideas about new programs, like daytime yoga, to draw in more people.
As for the hundreds of people who have memberships to the facility, reimbursement will be sorted out once a new CEO and management team are hired, Federenko said.
"In one way, shape or form, everyone who had a membership or had anything (invested) in The Dome will be made whole," Federenko said.
She said The Dome is still working through its insurance issues, but officials plan to reopen in mid-November.
A visibly relieved Peter Showler, the technical director of Cook Inlet Soccer Club, was among the attendees of Friday's news conference. He said the club, which serves about 1,600 youth soccer players, had to scramble to find a new space last winter.
The city's other inflated sports facility, the Fox Hollow Sports Dome, stepped up to fill in the gaps, as did the Anchorage School District, Showler said. But for the club, it ultimately meant more hours in smaller spaces, Showler said.
"This is an icon of the area," Showler said. "And it's needed. Very much needed."