In 2012, the J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome, one of the most unique venues in all of college athletics, celebrates its 36th year as the entertainment center for northern Arizona.
The building underwent a major renovation from Dec. 2010-Sept. 9, 2011, at a cost of $26 million. The scope of the project included bringing the fire, life and safety up to code while remodeling the bathrooms, concourse, offices, suites, locker rooms and press box. The athletic training and equipment on the main floor were also remodeled and three elevators were added to the complex. Fans now enter the building to a panoramic view of the field on the East and west concourses. Capacity was reduced to 10,000 but now feature 21-inch wide chair back seating.
The Skydome has been the home of NAU football, basketball and indoor track and field since 1977. Construction began in the fall of 1975, and the facility was completed in September 1977. Seating capacity for football originally was 15,000 and 7,000 for basketball.
Once the largest wood-span structure of its kind in the world, the Skydome was built at a cost of more than $8 million. It covers an area of 6.2 acres, with the roof spanning more than 500 feet and rising 142 feet above the playing surface.
The Skydome showcases the REALGRASS™ surface installed in the spring of 2008 by the Hellas Construction firm of Austin, Texas. The carpet, the Matrix version of the brand REALGRASS™ cost close to $1 million. The REALGRASS™ Matrix system is comprised of a monofilament spinneret yarn in two different sizes and colors. It is the same installed for the Dallas Cowboys' stadium.
With the 2001 renovation to the Skydome floor, the 96,000-square foot surface was covered with Mondo. The track contains a six-lane, 300-meter non-banked loop (eight sprinting lanes) with the infield containing enough area for six NCAA-standard basketball and volleyball courts, as well as two regulation tennis courts. Track and field specific, the facility now has 12-month training capabilities. When covered for football with artificial turf, the Skydome supports a practice pole vault pit and a long/triple jump runway, as well as a lane for sprinting and hurdles. When the turf is up, the facility can be used for intramural and camp sports, and has enough room for a varsity soccer practice.
The roof was also resurfaced during the summer of 2000 and the astroturf was replaced in 2002 from a surface that was in the Tropicana Dome, the home of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, in St. Petersburg, Fla.
The concourse contains offices, meeting rooms, restrooms and concession stands. Located on the dome’s floor level are fully equipped locker rooms and state-of-the-art athletic training and weight rooms. During the summer of 1997, the dome underwent a $1 million lighting renovation that further enhanced the Skydome’s lure for television cameras. Fresh air and heat come through 19 large ducts, maintaining a constant temperature of 72 degrees.
The first NAU sporting event held in the Skydome was a Lumberjack win over Montana in football on a last-second field goal, 25-24. The first NAU basketball game was a 101-76 triumph over Alaska Anchorage.
Special athletics events held in the Skydome include a Division II football playoff game in 1977, a Division I-AA football playoff games in 1996 and 2003, a first-round National Invitation Tournament basketball game in 1986 and 2006, the 1987, 1997, 1998 and 2006 Big Sky Conference men’s basketball tournaments, and the 1984, 1990, 1993, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2012 Big Sky Conference indoor track and field championship meets. In 2003, comedian Jay Leno appeared at the Skydome in a special Family Weekend event.
Many special events, including concerts, trade shows and high-school state tournaments are held in the Skydome each year. It also serves as training camp home of the Arizona Cardinals and Phoenix Suns. In May of 2000, the facility hosted a WNBA exhibition game between the Phoenix Mercury and the Detroit Shock.
NAU is one of 11 universities to own its own domed facility. The others are Idaho, Idaho State, Minnesota, North Dakota, Northern Iowa, Northern Michigan, North Dakota State, South Dakota, East Tennessee State and Syracuse.