West St. Paul's $6 million inflated sports dome -- the realized dream of City Council Member Jim Englin -- has opened, changing the city landscape, setting off a community buzz and creating a new spot for sports, fun, exercise and events.
Shepherding the project from conception to inflation, Englin sold it as a shot in the arm for the aging suburb.
"I have no problem admitting that I got a little emotional standing in the middle of that thing once the dome came up," Englin said. "It's an emotional thing when you put that much effort and passion into something."
Thrilled with the results, Englin said he has heard nothing but positive comments and feels the just-opened dome is already adding new energy to the city.
"We needed a shot of energy in this town. I don't think you can go into this dome and not have that shot of energy. People are running around, laughing, exercising, having a good time," Englin said. "We are changing for the better."
The big white dome that covers half a block next to City Hall is clearly seen from Robert Street.
Some residents aren't as excited as Englin. Newly elected Council Member Dave Napier says he has heard only negative comments so far. Some residents have told him it's too big. Some say it's ugly. Some are confused about the location and wonder why it's not at a park, he said.
But Napier views the dome as a positive for the community. "I think it's going to be successful. I think it's going to generate a little buzz around West St. Paul. It's going to bring people into our community and they will spend their money here.
"I don't expect the residents to see it right away. But hopefully the businesses will."
There's already an Exhibit A: Expecting the dome to bring a lot of new business his way, Jerry Carbone, owner of the Carbone's Pizza place across the street from the dome, gutted one of his two dining rooms to add new booths, a full-sized bar and an outdoor patio for summer seating.
As the closest business to the dome, he expects to pull in adults and families.
Two soccer teams came in last Friday night. "They had a bunch of pizza and a bunch of pop," Carbone said.
"West St. Paul really can use something like this to generate not only interest in our small town but also draw in some people coming to the area."
Players and sports representatives also are enthusiastic.
St. Thomas Academy football players who practiced in the dome last week gave it thumbs up.
"It's way better than practicing outside in the cold," said sophomore Jack Lee of St. Paul.
St. Thomas head football coach Dave Ziebarth, who booked the dome for three afternoon practices, said: "It's awesome. There's a lot of room in here. It's got this beautiful soft turf. It's a seven-minute drive to get here.''
Mike Dumer, boys' director of the Sting Soccer Club sponsored by the West St. Paul Youth Athletic Association, spent five hours with teams in the new dome the first weekend it opened. He described it as roomy and well lit with a comfortably cushioned playing field.
"I loved it," Dumer said. "I have been doing this for well over a decade, coaching or helping to manage this club, and it's the best facility that I have had a chance to play in. The kids were absolutely thrilled about it."
He expects the new dome to attract new players to the soccer program. Instead of playing outside when it's warm and competing for gym time during the cold months, "This gives us something in our back yard where we can train all year long and we are not having our parents drive half an hour to 45 minutes to a facility. We are very excited about this," Dumer said.
The Minnesota Women's Soccer Club also is excited about the new dome, said league president Karissa Richardson of West St. Paul. The league, for women 16 and up, includes winter games on Wednesday nights at the Vadnais Heights dome and now has added new play times in West St. Paul.
Englin said the dome still awaits a few finishing touches. Blacktop for the parking around the building is supposed to go in this week. Trees and landscaping have not yet been planted. Colored lighting will be installed that can make the dome festive for special occasions. "We are going to dress it up quite a bit," Englin said.
As it opens, the city is satisfied that it is on solid financial footing, Englin said. The work came in under the $6.6 million budget, and cold-weather time slots are more than 80 percent full. What remains now are the later night slots, at 9 p.m. or later.
A public open house for the dome is tentatively set for Dec. 12 and will be announced in the next community newsletter.
Laurie Blake • 952-746-3287