When fans pack Dahlberg Arena for a concert or a basketball game, they’re treated to a bird’s-eye view of the action in a facility that stands among the best in the region.
But it’s a different story behind the scenes. Musicians are treated to sparse accommodations, while visiting football and basketball teams are housed in cramped and outdated facilities.
“You look at our stadium and it’s the best in FCS football, and our basketball arena is top notch,” said Brad Murphy, director of the Adams Center. “But our ancillary facilities – our locker rooms, weight rooms and dressing rooms – they’re not adequate right now. We need a lot of upgrades.”
This June, work will begin to renovate and modernize the facility’s outdated accommodations, including an academic center for student-athletes, a new main entry to the Adams Center – which houses Dahlberg Arena – and a project to add new locker and dressing rooms for athletes and performers.
Standing behind a bank of doors on Wednesday morning, Murphy explained the vision, noting how the facility will be expanded westward by 4,000 square feet, bringing three new levels of purpose to the arena.
“This main level will serve as a big foyer entry for us,” Murphy said. “We’ll spruce that up and make a nice façade. Visitors will be able to see it a little better coming into the Adams Center.”
The $2.5 million project, paid entirely with private funds, also includes a new academic center for student-athletes, located on the top floor. Work in the basement, just off the arena, will expand the locker and dressing rooms for performers and visiting teams.
There, in a dark corner of the arena beyond a practicing Lewis-Clark State College basketball team, Murphy entered the two visiting locker rooms, each no larger than a bedroom. The facilities are dated and sparse, and for visiting teams and performers, the space is limited.
“Right now, we have to try and use our student-athletes’ locker rooms when we host high-school tournaments, and that doesn’t work well at all, because they’re in season,” Murphy said. “You have to displace our student-athletes to put these high school teams in there.”
It’s not much better on the performance side, which shares the same space. Most large productions require six to eight large dressing rooms to accommodate performers – something the center lacks, offering just two.
Murphy believes the new accommodations will help the Adams Center draw more entertainers – those on par with Rascal Flatts, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, and the Zac Brown Band, which plays the arena this month.
“Being able to present six to eight new dressing rooms and locker rooms with separate vanities and separate toiletries will make a huge difference for us,” Murphy said. “Tour managers, booking managers and promoters, they all talk. Is Missoula a good place to go? You’re relying on your reputation, and you have to offset the things we don’t have.”
Concerts held in the arena seat 5,800 people, making it one of the smallest venues in the region. The Brick Breeden Fieldhouse at Montana State University seats around 8,000 people for concerts, while MetraPark in Billings seats around 10,000, Murphy said.
The Adams Center has rarely had a problem filling seats. The recent Rascal Flatts and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis concerts sold out, though the Adams Center was the smallest venue on their tours. The lack of seating, which limits tickets sales, will always prevent big shows – think Lady Gaga and U2 – from playing the arena.
But the upgrades may help draw musicians on par with Elton John, James Taylor and Carrie Underwood, all who recently played the venue. Murphy said the center’s location on Interstate 90 helps, though the southern route through Portland, Ore., Boise, Idaho, and Salt Lake City makes for stiff competition, as does a similar route through Canada.
“Sometimes you win that and sometimes you lose that,” Murphy said. “We worked really hard to get Mumford & Sons, I mean really hard, but they routed north through Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver (in Canada).”
Murphy believes the new facilities will help the Adams Center compete for shows. The reputation is in place, he said, and the new accommodations may go a long ways in leveling the playing field.
Construction is expected to begin in June and last for nearly a year. Additional private funding will be sought to complete work in the basement.
“We work closely with UM Productions, and the reputation that has been built over the years helps us land some shows,” said Murphy. “We have a lot of people in the industry we utilize to bring shows to Missoula. If we can show that we have these amenities, they’re more willing to come here.”