When your work phone number is in the newspaper three times a week — and available on the Internet 24/7/52 — you get some interesting phone calls.
So when I picked up the phone some weeks back and heard a guy pitching me that he'd come up with a unique idea for a domed stadium that would be perfect for Lexington, I was not initially receptive.
However, I like bold ideas from outside the proverbial box, so eventually I agreed to let Tom Shannon come to the newspaper and make his pitch.
Shannon, a 50-year-old married father of one, is the facilities director for the Lexington Clinic. But his avocation is sports stadiums, to the point that on a family vacation to Arizona, he made his wife, Tammy, go on a tour with him of the University of Phoenix Stadium (where the Arizona Cardinals play).
It turns out, Shannon has thought of something I had never heard discussed before in making domed stadiums suitable for basketball. He also has a viable reason why such a facility could, uniquely, make sense for Lexington, Ky.
I have no idea whether the technology necessary to do what he suggests is practical, nor whether there would be any realistic hope of financing such a facility here even if it is.
But in the following question and answer, I am going to let Shannon share with you his idea for a 70,000-seat domed stadium in downtown Lexington that could be home to University of Kentucky football and basketball and perhaps bring Final Fours back to the commonwealth.
Question: The problem with basketball in domed stadiums is that there are way too many bad seats. People will put up with it for an event the magnitude of a Final Four but would never do so for regular games. What about your plan would fix that problem?
Answer: In domes, they take the basketball court and usually set it up (perpendicular to the football field) in one end zone and then use the semi-circle of that for basketball seating. Usually, they come in on the other side like Syracuse does (in the Carrier Dome) and put in some temporary bleachers.
You can't put 15,000, 20,000 temporary seats in, it just wouldn't be prudent. Plus you put in bleachers, they're not comfortable; it's just not a good setup for the fan.
But if you could take the (opposite end zone), the stands, the luxury boxes, the concession stands, everything, and put that whole section on a rail, and ship it forward 250, 260 feet, well now, you've brought 15,000, 20,000 good seats with all the amenities right up to the basketball court. Now, you are sitting with a facility that would have 45,000, maybe 50,000 good basketball seats."
Q: What reason is there to think it would be possible to build a football stadium with, basically, a retractable end zone?
A: Anything is possible. Is it financially feasible? That, to me, is the question. If you can design and build a functioning drawbridge, if you can design a system that moves the space shuttle to the launch pad, why couldn't you do this?
Q: How would the moving end zone work?
A: The two quickest ways would be a rail system; another option would be a roller system. It may be a combination of rollers and hydraulics.
Q: If you are moving a whole section of a stadium, how would that impact the electrical, water, sewage connections, things like that?
A: That's actually the simplest part of that. My background before I got into what I do now, I was a plumber. It literally would take, probably, 10 minutes to disconnect the section mechanically from the portable water and sewer system and a like-amount of time to reconnect once it moves up. I'm not an electrician, but I work with two master electricians, and they assure me you could do the same thing (with the electrical hookup).
Q: What happens behind the section of the stadium that is tractable? Is there an outside wall?
A: The outside wall would remain. What's going to move is just the seating. The way I envision it, the building from the outside you would never be able to tell anything has happened.
Q: What happens with the football field itself when the stadium is moved up for basketball?
A: The track system or the roller system would be underneath the football field. The field will be over it. You would take the field up (when you moved the stands forward).
Q: If this idea were both technologically and financially feasible, why do you claim it makes sense for Lexington in a way it wouldn't make sense for any other market?
A: Because, at least for the foreseeable future, I think 70,000 football seats are enough to serve us. Ohio State, for instance, sells more football tickets so they couldn't build a football stadium of this size.
On the other hand, where else could you sell 40,000, 45,000 season basketball tickets, if they were good seats? I really believe, here, you could do that if people knew they were good seats.
Q: You have a theory on what it would cost to build this?
A: The only thing I can really compare it to is Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis). They built that in the range of $750 million. It has a retractable roof. I don't think we would need that. But I don't know (if the price savings from that) would even come close to (paying for a retractable end zone).
Q: When you tell people about your idea, how do they react?
A: Some people think it's crazy. I tell people, I guess we'll see. People are going to think I've got a good idea or that I'm a fool. But you can't let that frighten you.