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America's Center adds seats for big basketball games
ST. LOUIS -- A $3.2 million facelift of the basketball venue at the Dome at America's Center, featuring better sight lines and a more intimate feel, had a public unveiling on Wednesday.
After a news conference, the new configuration got a practical run-through with a game between Meramec and Lewis & Clark junior colleges. It's basically a rehearsal for the first and second rounds of the NCAA South Regional on March 14-16.
"With this upgrade, we now have the best dome basketball setup in America," said Bob Bedell, president and CEO of the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission.
The seating capacity remains at about 40,000, nearly double that of the crosstown Savvis Center. Improvements include positioning the court 13 feet closer to the south stands, increasing the rise between rows near the floor and eliminating gaps between sections on the floor to create more of an arena environment.
Money for the project came from the dome's capital improvement fund. The dome will also be the site of the 2004 Midwest Regional Final and the 2005 Final Four. The setup will also be used for conventions and other special events.
Four basketball events have been held in the dome since it opened in 1995, including Saint Louis vs. Missouri in 1999. Representatives from both schools both gave the setup the thumbs-up.
"It's much better than our earlier experience," Missouri associate athletic director Gene McArtor said. "I'm not sure you will ever give a dome exactly the same feel as a basketball arena, but this comes a heck of a lot closer than other domes I've seen. It's pretty impressive."
Good tickets remain for the NCAA Regional, which will have four first-round games on March 14 and two second-round games on March 16.
Speaking of Saint Louis and Missouri, negotiations for continuing the 3-year-old series remain on hold. Saint Louis athletic director Doug Woolard said talks could resume after the holidays.
"We've had some conversations, but not probably in depth enough to say 'Let's get this thing completed,"' Woolard said. "I hope it happens. I think it makes a lot of sense."
Woolard said it's good for both schools, even though Missouri has a much stronger program right now.
"We won three years ago and they must have recruited pretty well," Woolard said. "They were second in the country when we played them."
Missouri athletic director Mike Alden said it was "premature" to project what his school's schedule would look like next season. He also said Missouri also has a solid presence in St. Louis with the annual Missouri-Illinois "Braggin' Rights" game, with this year's edition set for Saturday at the Savvis Center.
Saturday's game in the "Braggin' Rights" series ends a four-year contract, but McArtor said the schools are close on another four-year deal.
As for the future of Saint Louis vs. Missouri: "It's still probably about a 'We'll see,"' Alden said. "There's no sense or urgency for us on that. None."