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Delta Center now ice rink

Changes aim to allay concerns over ‘the pit’

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It has been called "the pit," or "the black hole." Not exactly sparkling reviews for the Olympics' biggest gig.

Renamed the Salt Lake Ice Center for the Olympics, the Delta Center will host the Games' marquee sports event.

Figure skating tickets sold out first and fastest as fans scrambled for their chance to see Michelle Kwan make another go for the gold, Todd Eldredge's final Olympic performance, and the dreamy pairs team from Canada. But everyone who bought a ticket also came upon a caveat: many seats would not offer a full view of the ice. The "sightline" issue reared its ugly head.

The Delta Center was built to house the Utah Jazz basketball team, not ice sports. To accommodate the Olympic-size ice, several rows (about five rows along the sides, and 15 at either end) had to be retracted. That left spectators peering down on the skaters, and restricted their view of the ice surface. Skaters faced a heavy black curtain draped over the retracted seats, instead of rows of adoring fans.

Grumbling about the sightline limitations began years ago, when it became clear that the Delta Center likely would host figure skating at the Games. Fans, at first dismayed, became downright disturbed. Skaters whispered about the oddity of skating in "the pit."

Sunday, venue officials unveiled what they hope will be a new and improved ice rink, having addressed as many of the prevailing concerns as possible.

Karen Koppel, the ice center's venue site manager, said workers began their transformation of the Delta Center into the figure skating/short-track speedskating venue almost immediately after the Utah Jazz basketball game Saturday evening.

Key to the transformation:

A separate audio system will be installed, to give what Koppel called "concert quality" sound.

Four 12 X 16-foot video boards will be mounted on the arena's central scoreboard to compensate for the sightline problems. The scoreboard will be suspended 42 feet above the ice. The skaters' scores will be posted on the smaller screens on the scoreboard itself.

Event organizers have scrapped the heavy black curtain in favor of something with more of a "look of the Games," Koppel said. That look will include the "fire and ice" motif, as well as a rugged mountain theme. "That was one of the things we wanted to do — to kind of lighten it up, make it look less like a pit."

At least 62 ice-level seats have been added at either end of the rink, "so we'll have some faces, some public faces, right down at the ice," Koppel said. A few more may be added.

Though the venue has certain insurmountable obstacles, ice center general manager Cecelia Paglia said she hopes the changes will allow fans to fully enjoy the events.

"We're doing everything we can to make the best of the situation," Paglia said.

Even if the venue isn't ideal, Koppel said she expected spectators will still have a memorable experience. It is the Olympics, after all.

"I think it will be a beautiful venue, when it's all said and done," Koppel said. "I think the atmosphere will really come across well for everyone who attends."

E-mail: jnii@desnews.com