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Volume 20 No. 42
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Sink Combs Dethlefs stays busy in the small arena category

Don Muret
The active market for developing midsize arenas is keeping one sports architect busy with more than a half-dozen jobs stretching from Maine to California.

Sink Combs Dethlefs, a Denver firm, specializes in 10,000-seat venues. The company has designed new arenas in Allentown, Pa.; Bangor, Maine; and Sioux Falls, S.D., and is working on a 5,000-seat college basketball facility for Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.

In addition, the architect designed renovations for Erie Insurance Arena in Erie, Pa., and Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, Maine.

Most recently, the University of Richmond hired Sink Combs to develop a master plan for renovating the school’s 40-year-old Robins Center.

New suites that Sink Combs designed at Erie Insurance Arena exceed the standard size.
In Erie, the architect planned $46 million in upgrades for a building that had not undergone a major renovation since it opened in 1983, said Casey Wells, executive director of the Erie County Convention Center Authority, the facility’s governing body.

The two-year project, to be finished next summer, covers a new facade at the front entrance, more concession points of sale and a new premium level with 13 suites.

Twelve skyboxes are available for long-term deals, and one is reserved for arena use. The cost is $30,000 to $35,000 annually, depending on location, with five-year commitments. The authority had sold six of the suites, Wells said last week.

The suites are larger than traditional 12- to 16-seat units. In Erie, all skyboxes will have 22 seats: 12 theater-style chairs and 10 bar stools.

“Great value in Erie,” Wells said.

In May, the authority signed a 10-year, $3 million naming-rights deal with Erie Insurance, a Fortune 500 company based in the city. The cash commitment from that deal enabled the authority to put the suites and a new $1 million scoreboard back in the renovation after they were cut because of a lack of funds, Wells said.

Next summer, construction starts on the arena’s 250 new club seats. Those seats carry $250 yearly fees for the right to buy tickets to all events. The arena is home to the NBA Development League’s Erie Bayhawks, the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters and an indoor football team.

The renovation will boost arena seating to about 7,000 for sports, an increase of 1,500 seats, Wells said.

Sink Combs’ other projects are in various stages of development. Bangor’s 5,800-seat arena is under construction. In Sioux Falls, groundbreaking is set for Aug. 30 to build a $115 million minor league hockey facility. Mortenson is building the 12,000-seat arena.

For the architect, it has been feast or famine getting work over the past several years as the economy ebbs and flows, said Don Dethlefs, the firm’s CEO.

“In 2008, we had enough big jobs where we were coasting and bigger firms in Denver were laying off people,” Dethlefs said. “About 1 1/2 years ago, we felt the pinch. In our business, you have to keep getting your share of jobs. You win three, then lose three. We were on a losing streak.”

NASSAU’S COLISEUM: Global Spectrum, SMG and Lagardère Unlimited Stadium Solutions are competing for the deal to run a new 15,000-seat national soccer stadium in Nassau, Bahamas, but whoever wins the contract may want to learn the Chinese language.

The $30 million project was a gift from the People’s Republic of China. The facility was built with Chinese labor and all the stadium’s signs are in Chinese, said Mich Sauers, senior vice president of business development for Comcast-Spectacor, Global Spectrum’s parent company.

The Thomas A. Robinson Stadium is among several sports facility projects China has built in the Caribbean to support those island governments that have broken ties with Taiwan, according to a story in The New York Times. China considers Taiwan to be part of its country.

As for the challenge of translating Chinese, Sauers said, “There must be an English version somewhere.”

Don Muret can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @breakground.