NAU's premier multi-purpose facility is the J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome, the largest laminated wood beam structure of its kind in the world and the fourth largest rigid domed structure ever built. The original idea of campus planners was to build a small specialized facility such as a fully-enclosed ice rink. However, the record snowfall of 1973, NAU's poor showing in the Big Sky Conference, and the success of Idaho State University's multi-purpose "Minidome" broadened the concept of the facility. The Skydome became a reality in 1975 as a result of a twenty-six acre land donation by the Arizona Lumber and Timber Company, financing through a combination a public, private, and community resources, student support, and an architectural design that took advantage of the natural setting to defray costs. Ground breaking for the facility began at a special "dome-raising" ceremony on September 4, 1975. Designed by Rossman and Partners and built by the Mardian Construction Company, the Dome eventually cost over $8 million. The domed roof, engineered by Western Wood Structures of Portland, Oregon, was designed to rest upon an excavated "natural amphitheater" of stone, thus eliminating the expense of constructing a massive supporting wall. The laminated wooden beams that compose the roof were produced by Unadilla Laminated Products of Unadilla, New York. Despite not being fully completed, the Dome opened to the public at 6:00 on the evening of September 17, 1977. All 15,300 of its permanent seats were filled as NAU's football team beat the University of Montana. Almost immediately, the Dome enjoyed regular use by students and residents of northern Arizona as it hosted figure skating classes, hockey, basketball, football, and volleyball games, tennis matches, and rock concerts. Upon its opening, the Dome garnered widespread favorable media attention as ninety newspapers in addition to network television commented on the multi-purpose facility. One newspaper poetically described the Dome as "a tarpaper-grey flying saucer nestled in a natural bowl in the largest stand of Ponderosa pine on the planet." In the fall of 1979 during the University Honors Convocation, Regent Ralph M. Bilby formally christened the facility the J. Lawrence Walkup Skydome in honor of the man who, as president of NAU, guided the project to fruition.