Blog: Dome Stories

Versatility scores points with users

It wasn’t an easy sell at first. Mark Bigelbach, who developed West St. Paul’s massive athletic center, was convinced a multi-use domed facility was the ideal recreational solution for the town. But the community had other ideas – namely a skating rink.

It took a lot of community meetings – and a feasibility study that indicated turf fields get a lot more use than skating rinks. Ultimately, the 108,000-square-foot dome was built. And all the community outreach paid off. Some of the biggest objectors became some of the biggest champions of the new domed space. “It was a million percent turnaround,” said Bigelbach.

School space for many

Schools are also discovering that multi-use domes have appeal. In Minnetonka, MN, the seasonal dome covering the high school’s football field is used for softball, baseball and soccer practice in winter. Football coach Dave Nelson says, “It’s an opportunity to work on skills. It helps individuals reach their potential and hit their level of play. They get to work on their own time,” he said.

It’s not just students who use the domed facility. “We draw users from some of the neighboring suburbs,” said Nelson. Some of the rentals from these outside groups help pay for dome operations.

Nelson likes the fact that it gives kids in the neighborhood a safe place to go. “It’s nice to keep them in the community. The fees are low and their parents don’t have to drive them somewhere else. It’s a constructive place to go.”

It's not always about sports

Frisbee inside an air dome

Multi-use domes are used in other ways besides organized league sports. The soaring ceilings and lack of obstacles work well for drone-flying competitions, Frisbee, and fly fishermen. In the city of Plymouth, MN, the dome is occasionally equipped with inflatable bounce houses and opened up to kids in the community.

Bigelbach has been especially creative about all the dome’s usages. “We’ve had bands in here. It’s a fantastic venue. The acoustics are great.”

Different users mean different revenue streams as well. As a result of all the different groups it serves, West St. Paul’s Recreation and Athletic Center operates at a healthy profit.

“We know how to schedule it and use it,” Bigelbach said.