Fans arrive to the Alamodome.
The Alamodome will host the women's NCAA Final Four tournament in 2021. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

San Antonio will learn Monday whether it will be picked to host the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four within the next eight years.

Regardless of whether the city’s bid is successful, another round of upgrades is needed for the 25-year-old Alamodome, multiple officials involved with the bid for a future Final Four told the Rivard Report. Potential improvements include adding more suites, upgrading elevators, and updating the concourse on the uppermost level.

The building, which has played host to four men’s Final Fours and two women’s Final Fours, was the recent recipient of a $65.5 million facelift prior to the 2018 men’s Final Four, paid for by the City and other entities such as the Alamo Bowl.

“The Alamodome performed extremely well during the last men’s Final Four that we hosted,” said Patricia Muzquiz Cantor, director of the City’s Convention and Sports Facilities Department. “However, as a facility, we are always striving to ensure that we remain competitive with other venues. Based upon feedback from stakeholders and users of the Alamodome, the City is evaluating options for potential improvements to the Alamodome.”

In its bid for the 2023, 2025, or 2026 men’s Final Four, San Antonio is competing against Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Phoenix, all of which have venues that are newer than the Alamodome.

There is still $38.6 million in debt to be paid on the recent renovations, Muzquiz Cantor said. Revenue from parking and ticket fees at the Alamodome go toward that debt. No revenues from property taxes or the City’s general fund are involved.

City staff is already working with outside consultants to develop a new capital improvements plan for the Alamodome that would address maintenance and additional upgrades, Muzquiz Cantor said.

It’s too early in the process to know when that plan will be complete and ready for presentation to City Council, what renovations City officials will recommend, and how much it will cost, Muzquiz Cantor said. But officials already know some of the NCAA’s minimum requirements that would need to be met if San Antonio was awarded another Final Four.

For instance, the NCAA now requires a Final Four facility to have at least 70 suites. Some of the more modern venues the Alamodome competes against for such events feature more than 100 suites. The Alamodome has just 52.

The San Antonio Local Organizing Committee (SALOC) constructed 14 temporary suites on the south side of the stadium for the 2018 Final Four, but permanent suites would be required in the future. In addition to 14 suites on the south end, the City is looking at building four suites at the 50-yard line on the mezzanine level of the stadium, said Jenny Carnes, SALOC’s executive director.

But suites are only one issue. SALOC officials met with the NCAA in May to get feedback on this year’s Final Four. Carnes said one issue the NCAA would like to see addressed at the Alamodome is making the facility more accessible to people with disabilities.

“I’ll say there was very little on the negative side,” Carnes said. “The feedback was very positive on how we performed and the results that we produced.”

Two other issues being studied are the possibility of improving the concourse on the uppermost level to make sure there is parity between it and the Plaza Level, which was expanded in the latest renovation. Improving concessions, flooring, and lighting would be a part of the fifth-level concourse renovation.

The final big issue being examined is the possibility of upgrading elevators and vertical transportation in the building.

Visitors look over the Alamodome during an August 2017 tour that showcased renovations made to the building. Credit: Robin Jerstad for the San Antonio Report

Whatever improvements are ultimately recommended must be approved by the City Council, Muzquiz Cantor said. She said any renovations would be paid for from the Community and Visitor Facilities Fund, which gets its revenue from operations at the
Alamodome and Convention Center and a portion of the city’s hotel occupancy tax.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg, City Manager Sheryl Sculley, University of Texas at San Antonio President Taylor Eighmy, and Carnes were part of a 10-member group that traveled July 10 from San Antonio to Boston to present San Antonio’s bid for the 2023, 2025, or 2026 Final Four. San Antonio removed itself from consideration for the 2024 event because it already has contracted with a technology convention that year.

San Antonio also is bidding for the 2021 women’s Final Four.

Carnes said that while there is no requirement to make further renovations, members of the San Antonio delegation pledged to study the issue and work with the NCAA to make sure the Alamodome met any necessary specifications if San Antonio is awarded another men’s Final Four.

Part of the City’s bid was a pledge of $1 million toward NCAA expenses in whatever year San Antonio is chosen to host, Carnes said. SALOC has raised that $1 million in private funds since the end of this year’s Final Four, she said, and was able to show the NCAA that money is already in the bank.

The NCAA is already approaching the $1 billion mark in revenue per year for the men’s NCAA Tournament from its television contract alone. It likely doesn’t need host cities to offer to help pay its expenses, but doing so might be a way for a city like San Antonio with an older stadium to make its best case.

Officials point to a study that estimated the 2018 Final Four would bring $185 million in economic impact to the city as evidence that it makes economic sense to continue to upgrade the Alamodome and offer incentives such as $1 million toward NCAA hosting expenses.

“The event is the biggest thing we do here in San Antonio,” Carnes said. “The return on our hosting investment is $185 million of economic impact by almost 100,000 out-of-town visitors and the national – and in some cases, international – exposure it brings to the city.

“Those are just media dollars you cannot buy through traditional advertising. So, yes, the event is worth it and everything that we give up to do it.”

Kyle Ringo is a freelance journalist based in San Antonio. He has covered business, college athletics, the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball for numerous publications and websites.