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Blue Wahoos Take the Field in Pensacola

Tue July 24, 2012 - Southeast Edition
Cindy Riley

A $54 million park project in Pensacola, Fla., which includes a waterfront minor league baseball stadium, is now complete, although official ribbon cutting ceremonies will have to wait. A partial opening for Community Maritime Park took place in April, but a freak storm rained out the highly anticipated dedication scheduled for mid-June. Community Maritime Park is a 5,000-seat facility that’s home to the Cincinnati-Reds affiliated Blue Wahoos, and can be converted into a soccer or football field or concert venue with space for additional visitors.

“Site activities began in July 2010, ” explained Hoar Construction Contract Manager Mike Horton. “This project was a design-build project, so design efforts began much sooner. The work included initial grading packages, as well as installation of a new steel bulkhead, or seawall, around the perimeter of the site. The biggest challenge was that the initial stadium was designed to host a ’non-affiliated’ independent minor league baseball team. As the first steel and precast was being erected, the stadium had to be redesigned to host a AA Southern League team. This required more seating capacity and many other enhanced facilities.”

According to Horton, there were three major components of the Community Maritime Park project — the stadium that opened on April 5, 2012, as well as an amphitheater and a green space public park that has been unveiled in stages. Officials are now working to reschedule the dedication event, which was to have included local and state dignitariess, as well as various musical acts.

In April 2009, the Pensacola City Council gave final approval for the ballpark, which faces the Pensacola Bay. The 30-acre waterfront parcel where the Community Maritime Park is located sat vacant for years after its disuse by the railroads.

“Looking at what’s there now, it’s hard to believe, but this sizeable waterfront parcel, across the street from City Hall became, essentially, an overgrown lot used by transients as a camp,” explained Derek Cosson, public information officer of the city of Pensacola. “The need for this parcel was to reclaim this space for citizens, providing waterfront access and recreational amenities, and to provide an anchor for revitalizing downtown Pensacola and developing/redeveloping our waterfront.”

Cosson explained, “The city owns the property and constructed the public amenities such as the stadium, amphitheater, promenade, greenspace, etc., through the Community Maritime Park Associates Inc. The Blue Wahoos AA baseball team leases the stadium, and its owners, Quint and Rishy Studer, have generously made various improvements, like seating upgrades and installation of an auxiliary scoreboard, that have become public property. The northern end of the park has nine developable parcels that will form the private element of this project. We’re currently fielding interest from a number of different possibilities, and we could see everything from restaurants and shops to residential or hotel uses.”

Various projects had been proposed on the site dating back to the city’s purchase of the property in 2000, but the vision for the specific project emerged in late 2004, after Hurricane Ivan.

“A number of community leaders — initially retired Admiral Jack Fetterman and Quint Studer — conceived the project as a way to revitalize the city after the hurricane. One challenge was a small but dedicated group of citizens who for various reasons opposed the project and forced a referendum in 2006. Though they lost, they continued to actively criticize the project and attempted but failed to force referendums in 2009 and 2010. Other challenges included financing the park, which took some complex financial transactions involving Build America Bonds, New Market Tax Credits.”

There are three levels to the stadium complex. The ground level features locker rooms, along with administrative offices. Behind the wall are restrooms, along with a garage for maintenance vehicles. The main deck also includes restrooms, as well as a merchandise store, a children’s area and space for food service. The top deck houses a private club, while the center area is reserved for journalists. Populous, formerly HOK Sport, served as architect for the stadium.

Equipment used on the overall project included trackhoes, backhoes for varying types of excavation, cranes for steel and precast erection, cranes for sheet pile driving and augercast pile installation, lulls for varying types of hoisting, scissor lifts and boom lifts for personnel hoisting for certain tasks. Major concerns for the multi-use facility involved the layout of football and soccer fields within the footprint of the stadium, and providing an easy way to change field configuration to allow football and soccer to be played at the venue.

Erik Oxford, Hoar Construction project manager, pointed out, “On time delivery of materials was a chief concern. The structural steel used on this project is very ornate. The trusses had lots of architectural details.

“This project is unique. It’s one of the most interesting I’ve been involved with because of the aesthetics. The Hunter Amphitheater is a steel structure with brick veneer and columns. It has a covered stage and back house with dressing rooms, bathrooms, two showers for the entertainers and offices. There’s a beach, palm tree feel to it, with a seating bowl out front. There are no specific seats so people can spread their blankets and sit wherever they want.

“When visitors first enter the park, they’ll see the stadium and the various green spaces, ponds with fountains, walking paths, paved walkways, a boardwalk around the perimeter, an amphitheater within the park, various sites for future development and some beautiful views. Water surrounds the park on three sides, Oxford continued. “This is a great addition for Pensacola residents.”

Because of the location on the water, environmental issues needed to be addressed.

Oxford explained, “Water runoff in the bay was a tremendous concern, so storm water and pollution control were extremely important. There also was an issue with having to load the site with dirt and let it settle before work could be done.”

Local firms Bullock Tice and Associates and Quina Grundhoefer were selected as architects for the Hunter Amphitheater. Subcontractors involved in the park project included Aber Fence & Supply Co. Inc., Baroco Electric Construction Co., Berkel & Company Contractors Inc., Executive Landscaping Inc., Southern Timber Structures and Wetland Sciences Inc.

Bell Steel served as structural steel fabricator, while Deep South Crane Rentals of Pensacola supplied equipment for numerous tasks. The company has been onsite periodically since June 2011.

According to Deep South Crane Vice-President Jimmy White, crews first had to set the concrete slabs for the bleacher seating, using a 150-ton (136-t) hydraulic crane.

“The seating is mounted onto concrete and with the foundations poured, it made things pretty easy. That part took about three weeks and it went pretty smoothly.

“In November, working with Jacksonville-based M. Gay Constructors Inc., Deep South Cranes set the stadium light poles using a 60-ton (54-t) hydraulic crane.

By January, Deep South crews had teamed with Rainbow Signs Inc., to put the stadium scoreboard in place, utilizing a 150-ton hydraulic crane.

“There are six poles and they are really big and tall,” White explained. “We’re talking approximately 120 feet tall and about 40,000 pounds each. They were actually in two pieces and were trucked in. We unloaded them, the lights were assembled on the tops of the poles and then we came back in and set all of the bottom sections. After the concrete was poured it had to set for a couple of days. We also had to stack the top sections to the base. That requires proper rigging when you’re strapping to pick up the poles. We also had to be concerned with ground conditions. When there’s been grading, etc. you have to make sure you have the right matting for the crane to sit on. It’s pretty tedious work. It took about a week and a half to complete the pole portion of the project.”

White said installing the ballpark’s scoreboard was one of the highlights of the job.

“It’s a huge, state-of-the-art steel structure that, unlike a lot of traditional scoreboards, has a giant screen with the ability to show replays, as opposed to just having the names of the home and visiting teams,” said White. “Things went pretty smoothly on our part, but it was very time consuming because it involved a lot of welding. We worked putting pieces together in the air and on the ground. It was like a puzzle, using a set of drawings as our guideline.

“The design of the entire park is really impressive,” added White. “This is great for the community and it’s no wonder it’s the talk of the town. It’s first-class, and the fact that it’s positioned to overlook Pensacola Bay makes it something very special for families and everyone else who comes to spend time at the park. I’ve been to other stadiums where the back of it overlooks a building or a patch of woods. This is absolutely the perfect setting.”

C & H Baseball of Bradenton, Fla., was responsible for equipment installation at the stadium.

“We worked with the architect, owner and our general contractor to engineer and design the backstop netting and cable system, which we’ve done at more than 350 stadiums since 1996. We also provided the wall padding, guard rail padding, batting tunnel netting, sports turf, Batter’s Eye windscreen, foul ball poles and the installation of those items. Over the course of several months these items were completed.

“Our products are the finishing products on a stadium, so the stadium looks like a big concrete gray area. Then we come in and paint the color, and complete the padding and windscreen products. We have to wait until the other scope of works are complete, which sometimes means we are the last sub into a stadium, and we have the stress of completing the field so that play can occur. However, C & H’s experienced installation crews are always up for the challenge.”

Huff said necessary materials for the work included steel, wood, foam, vinyl, aluminum, nylon netting and cable.

“We have different crews for different aspects of the work. Our padding crew took about two weeks to install the products. Our sport turf crew took about three days to lay the turf in the batting tunnel area, while our netting crew took about a week to install the Backstop system and the Batter’s Eye. We also installed the foul ball poles and that took a week or so. All of the products were manufactured offsite and shipped to the site for installation. The offsite production took a couple of months, given our production schedule for 2012. Also, the rain did play a role in installation, and the mud is never fun for our guys to deal with.”

Subcontractor Masonry Arts Inc. of Bessemer, Ala., was onsite for just over one year.

“We installed all the masonry components at the Maritime Park and amphitheater including the concrete masonry units, face brick and architectural cast stone,” said Vice-President of Business Operations John Swindal.

“The materials utilized were concrete masonry units, face brick and architectural cast stone. This involved approximately 100,000 bricks, 70,000 concrete masonry units and roughly 200 pieces of architectural cast stone. We used forklifts, large and small, and large Pettibone machines, as well.”

Swindal added, “Luckily the weather on the Gulf Coast cooperated for the most part. We faced some challenges working in the area, including summer rains and a little bit of cold weather. The construction team managed to complete the job in an efficient and timely manner despite challenges inherent to working on a tight schedule in an unpredictable climate.”

Although future Community Maritime Park developments could include a hotel, conference center, offices, residences, museum, shops, restaurants and private commercial development, for now, the focus is the unveiling of Phase One.

“Reaction to the stadium has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Cosson. “The Wahoos have sold out 20 home games this season, and the stadium’s gotten rave reviews from baseball blogs and visitors, with many commenting on the amazing view and the fact that there’s not a bad seat in the house. We have a great slate of entertainment and family events slated for the summer, and we’re working with the acts that were scheduled to perform at the grand opening, including the Charlie Daniels Band.”

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