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Score on domed stadiums is 1-1-2 in winning, breaking even, losing

It's one thing to build a covered stadium, but another to make it pay. Of the four domed stadiums in the United States, two are in the hole to taxpayers, one is breaking even, and one is making a profit.

The Seattle Kingdome is in the black, mainly because of a special hotel tax subsidizing the bond payments.

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The Houston Astrodome is breaking even, although it received a nonrepayable subsidy from the taxpayers early in the '60s when the dome was built.

The Pontiac Silverdome, just outside Detroit, may break even in the next few years.

The New Orleans Superdome, the biggest of the domes, is in the hole in a bad way, because of cost overruns during construction.

The Seattle Kingdome can keep stadium expenses and rent to tenants low because bonds issued for it are supplemented from a 2 percent hotel-industry tax -- and the hotel industry in Seattle is booming.

"The key is the expansion of the hotel industry," says Kingdome manager Ted Bowsfield. "We will have the dome paid off by 1983."

Spectators no longer have to worry about the infamous Northwest rain, and the mild climate keeps heating and air conditioning costs minimal. Opening costs -- the average cost of opening a stadium, including salaries -- is $5,000 per day.

he stadium is in use 250 days of the year, making it the most frequently used of the four.

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The stark stadium design is inexpensive, yet all-purpose. It can accomodate the marjor pro sports as well as dirt-track motorcycle racing, home shows, and everything else but a "swim meet," Bowsfield says.

Rather than just capturing the Seattle populace, the Kingdome extends its market to draw fans of the football Seahawks, basketball SuperSonics, baseball Mariners, and soccer Sounders from several hundred miles away.

The Houston Astrodome, home to the Oilers (football) and Astros (baseball), cost $32.8 million to build in the early '60s. It seats 52,000.

"We are not losing money," says Jim Weidler, vice-president of public relations and advertising for the Astrodome. "We are meeting our operating costs and the bond payments."

The Astrodome had to get Harris County to pass a tax subsidy of $9.6 million in 1963 to lessen the debt payment.

The Pontiac Silverdome cost $55.7 million to build in 1975 and seats 80,000. Each year the taxpayers pick up the deficit.

"We just learned that in the next two or three years the stadium should break even," says Julie Montgomery, advertising coordinator in the promotion department at the Silverdome. "Most business investments take a while to break even and then come into their own.

"In the first year we had 30 event days filled; now we are filling 155 days. We expect that to increase." Opening costs per day run $16,000.

The most expensive stadium to operate is the Superdome, at $38,000 per day. It is also the only dome with just one pro sports tenant, football's New Orleans Saints. The basketball Jazz moved out a year ago to relocate in Utah, and the city has yet to land a major-league baseball team.

The Superdome has been rife with controversy. The original bond issue was considered unrealistically low. Cost overruns brought the final price tag to $ 160 million, leaving taxpayers to subsidize the construction.

"The Superdome will never make money," says Danvil Skinner, president of the HMC Management Corporation. Good management, which his firm hopes to bring to the dome, is what he considers the key to minimizing losses.

Skinner says a baseball team, with its 81 home playing dates, might improve the situation.

Stadium managers, however, say they see the need for more than just major sports franchises to break even. The idea is to keep the facilities occupied on as many days as possible, be it with circuses, trade shows, conventions, or the like.

Minneapolis has begun on a multipurpose stadium, with an inflatable ceiling, to be completed in 1982 and seat 65,000. The original bond issue estimates the cost to be $55 million. The Vikings and Twins will play in the facility, which will bear Hubert H. Humphrey's name, and the University of Minnesota could play its football games there.

Syracuse University is just completing the fifth covered stadium of major size, the 55,000-seat Carrier Dome. The school, which is selling subscription seats, has arranged for the state to put up $15 million of the $26 million in construction costs. The Carrier Corporation has pitched in $2.75 million, leaving the university to pay just $2 million.

Vancouver, British Columbia, has the go-ahead from its provincial government to look into a multipurpose covered stadium. No price estimates have been issued yet for the proposed 60,000-seat structure.

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