City proposing options for Aluminum Dome expansion, renovation

A rendering of the Borger Aluminum Dome with an annex and conference center.An oil industry exposition held in 1963. (courtesy of Hutchinson County Historical Museum)The 750-seat conference center that would be part of Option 2. (images courtesy of Parkhill, Smith & Cooper)A rendering of what the inside of the dome could look like after a rennovation.
By: 
Tim Howsare
Editor

By TIM HOWSARE
Editor

The Aluminum Dome is perhaps as iconic to Borger as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, but on a much smaller scale, of course. The metal structure with brick skirting has stood the test of time for 62 years, or a little more than two thirds of Borger’s existence as a city.
The city seal has included an image of the dome – to the right of an oil rig, the rambunctious industry that founded the city, and underneath the familiar star that symbolizes Texas — for around 40 years.
These curious-looking aluminum structures, called geodesic domes, where built by Kaiser Aluminum and designed by an architect named Richard Buckminster Fuller, who designed the famous Expo 67 dome in Montreal.
But the Kaiser Aluminum Domes were only built for about a year, said Garrett Spradling, Borger’s assistant to the city manager, because Henry J. Kaiser, patriarch of the huge Kaiser corporation, and Fuller had a falling out.
Spradling said the city hasn’t been able to confirm how many Kaiser Domes besides the one in Borger still exist, if any, but he does know that Borger’s was among the first to be built. There was a Kaiser Dome in Hawaii, but it was torn down in 1999.
For anyone familiar with World War II history, Kaiser is an important name because Kaiser Shipyards built “Liberty Ships.” Using the most advanced production methods of the time, Kaiser Shipyards could build a vessel in two weeks or less.
In 2018, the dome was deeded over from Hutchinson County to the City of Borger.
The city is now proposing a major renovation project that would maintain the dome’s integrity as a historical icon while making it a destination that could bring more convention and special-event business to the city.
Originally, the dome was not an enclosed structure as it is now, Spradling said. The brick skirting was added later. In its glory days, the dome was host to some big events like the annual Magic Plains Oil Expo.
It’s still used for events here and there, of course, like the Altrusa Market that was held last weekend. But with the lack of air conditioning and fans, makeshift lighting and a bare cement floor, the dome would likely be a hard sell on the convention market, either statewide or nationally.
Despite its present lack of amenities and faded appearance, Spradling said the city sees potential far beyond the occasional car show or arts and crafts fair if the investment was made for an ambitious expansion and renovation. The interior space is 17,000 square feet, comparable to the enormous Heritage Room at the Amarillo Civic Center, which is about 20,000 square feet.
Spradling pointed out that the Phillips plant has around 800 employees, and there isn’t a place in Borger big enough where all of them can get together — possibly with their spouses and family members — at the same time.
The city is proposing two options. Option 1 is a dome renovation with an annex that would include a new entry, lobby, office, a catering kitchen, two conference rooms, new restrooms and mechanical storage areas. The cost of that plan would be nearly $6 million. Option 2 would include everything in Option 1 along with a large event space divisible into two-medium sized rooms or two small rooms and one medium-sized room. The estimated cost of that plan is $10,271,515.
Spradling said that with either plan everything would be new except for the dome itself. The metal has not corroded and is expected to last for another 50 years, he said, but what is needed is a sealant to fill in the seams between metal pieces. Based upon the findings of an engineering assessment, the dome is in “serviceable condition” and a waterproofing system should effectively seal all open joinery between the aluminum panels.
The floor, the electrical system and the restrooms are all on the list for replacement, he said.
Spradling said renovation and expansion could be paid for through the Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) which adds a 7% tax to hotel room rates. This money is “dedicated revenues” and can only be spent on projects that promote tourism and the convention industry. It cannot be diverted, let’s say, street repairs.
According to information provided by the city, there is nearly $6 million in funding available that includes hotel occupancy funds of $3,571,429.
In addition to HOT, Spradling said the city can add an additional 2% tax to hotel rooms — or $2 for a $100 room — to raise funds for the project.
His expectation is that the costs would be paid for by visitors to Borger — like contractors and workers brought in by local industries — and not by residents through additional property taxes.
He said the goal is to put the venue tax on the May ballot for the voters to decide.
If the expansion and renovation becomes reality, Spradling sees the possibility of a domino effect.
As more visitors come to Borger and stay at local hotels, more revenues will be brought into city coffers through the HOT and venue taxes, and consequently create an even bigger pool of money that could fund future projects.
More information on the dome proposal is available on the city’s website at borgertx.gov/Dome.
Following is some more history on the dome from that website:
In the late mid to late 1950s, Borger and Hutchinson County were experiencing an economic boom during the post-war years and the community began pushing for an event center. Following the failure of a $425,000 bond election for the construction of a civic center, Borger Mayor L.D. Patton and Chamber of Commerce Manager Dave Moore saw a commercial on TV for a Kaiser Aluminum Dome. The duo felt the dome could be a cheaper alternative to the failed civic center.
After a petition of 707 signatures was submitted to the Hutchinson County Commissioners Court, the Court called for a Bond Election (of $125,000) on July 2, 1957. The vote passed with 598 votes for and 378 against. The opponents of the project blamed the record-high temperature of 100 degrees (remember, there was no air conditioning in 1957) on that date for low voter turnout.
Construction finished later that year and the Hutchinson County Dome became the first Kaiser Aluminum Dome in the continental United States.
“This would gives us back our identity as a city,” Spradling said of the proposed project.

Category: