For more than 30 years Cincinnati’s Cinergy Field (aka Riverfront Stadium) stood along the banks of the Ohio River. Its circular design was touted as state-of-the-art when it opened on June 30, 1970. It housed two major league sports teams — the World Champion Cincinnati Reds and the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Reds went on to win the World Series in 1975 and 1976 with Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and Sparky Anderson leading the Big Red Machine and then again in 1990. Hank Aaron tied Babe Ruth’s career home run record on Opening Day in 1974, and in 1985 Pete Rose broke Ty Cobb’s career hit record of 4,191. It played host to Tom Browning’s perfect game and one of the most memorable baseball brawls in history when Ray Knight bowled over Eric Davis at third base and the whole Reds’ bench cleared.
The Bengals reached two Super Bowls while playing at Riverfront and played host to the infamous Freezer Bowl game where the Bengals overcame a wind chill of minus 59 degrees to beat the San Diego Chargers and advance to their first Super Bowl.
Having outlived its usefulness, the Reds and Bengals opted to build their own stadiums with grass fields and more user-friendly facilities. With many of the “cookie-cutter” stadiums coming down such as Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers and Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium, Hamilton County taxpayers passed the half-cent sales tax increase that would pave the way for Paul Brown Stadium where the Bengals would play and the Great American Ballpark that would house the Reds.
In the summer of 2000, NADC-member O’Rourke Wrecking Company was awarded the project to raze Cinergy Field. This project would be unlike the other “cookie cutter” stadiums in that Cinergy’s demise had to occur in three phases with the Reds playing in it for two more seasons.
Ramps & Bridges
Late in the summer of 2000, before demolition could begin, O’Rourke Wrecking Company had to erect a temporary barricade on the pedestrian bridge that connected Cinergy Field Plaza to the adjacent U.S. Bank Arena. Precast concrete panels were picked and salvaged for later use from the pedestrian bridge. Large hydraulic excavators and cranes began demolishing the eastern parking garage and bridges connecting Cinergy to the U.S. Bank Arena.
This substantial parking garage structure served as the Cinergy Field entry plaza which offered staging areas for truck and bus traffic and large pedestrian crowds, and was heavily reinforced with rebar making removal a little more complicated. During this phase one-third of the Vehicle/Pedestrian Bridge, stretching from Third Street over the I-75/I-71 exchange to Cinergy Field, had to be removed during third shift. Phase I was completed by mid-October 2000.
Phase 2: “The Bite”
Before construction of the new Great American Ballpark could begin, 25 percent of Cinergy Field had to be removed so the new ballpark could be partially constructed within Cinergy’s footprint. “The Bite” would entail removing a portion of the stadium from the left field foul pole to the right center field wall. Before this demolition could begin, 15,000 seats had been salvaged. The seats were taken back to O’Rourke’s yard and sold at a seat/memorabilia sale where crazed fans lined up the night before to purchase a piece of history.
During this process, the Reds decided, at the request of Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Larkin, to tear out the old AstroTurf playing surface and replace it with grass. The turf was recycled and cut up and sold as memorabilia and to sporting complexes.
During this phase, the remainder of the pedestrian/vehicles bridges over Interstate 75/71 had to be removed. Extreme measures had to be taken because the roadway surface beneath it was just two weeks old and the slightest mark would negate its warranty, thus requiring O’Rourke to mill it up and repave it. This required a year’s worth of coordination to close a 10-lane highway and main thoroughfare to downtown Cincinnati.
Now the real work began. Cinergy had to be dissected in a counterclockwise fashion by O’Rourke’s surgeons (operators) to eliminate damage to the floodwall located within the demolition footprint. This floodwall, which encircled Cinergy Field, had to be left intact to protect Cinergy Field and the new Great American Ballpark work sites from the potential flooding of the Ohio River. A crane was utilized to remove the lighting and the large roof panels that cantilevered over the seats. O’Rourke Wrecking Company had to coordinate its work with many other trade contractors that were preparing Cinergy for the upcoming baseball season and the pile driving crew from the Great American Ballpark.
O’Rourke Wrecking Company started this phase at the end of the 2000 baseball season and completed two weeks ahead of schedule in mid-January 2001. This opened Cinergy’s view to the Ohio River and Northern Kentucky. Many fans liked the new look of the Bite and wanted it to be left as is. That was not to be.
Phase 3: Demolition
It ended with Pete Rose’s headfirst slide into third base at the last game played at Cinergy Field on September 23, 2002. The “Hit King” was allowed back into Cinergy to play in the final “Farewell to Cinergy” celebrity game. The lights dimmed and the fans would not leave. The stadium was lit up by camera flashes that made it a magical night to remember. Tom Browning and Rob Dibble, former Reds’ pitchers, were down on the field scrapping dirt up from the pitcher’s mound before sadly walking off the field one last time.
Phase 3 was the largest segment of the project for O’Rourke Wrecking Company and entailed the complete demolition of the entire remaining portion of the stadium, parking garage and one additional pedestrian bridge. The new Great American Ballpark was just 2 ft. (.6 m) away from the north edge and 10 ft. (3 m) away from the south edge of the partially demolished Cinergy Field. At that point in time, O’Rourke began selective demolition removing two complete bays of the stadium at the north edge to ensure no damage would occur to the new ballpark.
A decision made Nov. 1, 2002, allowed O’Rourke Wrecking Company to use explosives to implode Cinergy Field. The project was originally bid by O’Rourke to demolish the stadium using conventional methods but due to the schedule being shortened by three months, implosion would help meet these new milestone deadlines.
The decision, made by the county, took countless months of effort and due diligence on O’Rourke’s part to get the implosion approved. County officials and Reds owners were not only concerned about the close proximity of the new stadium but the effect the dust would have on downtown office buildings.
Additionally, the Roebling Suspension Bridge, owned by the Commonwealth of Kentucky and on the National Historic Register, underwent extensive examination by O’Rourke Wrecking Company. Eventually it was determined that implosion would not adversely affect the bridge. O’Rourke was also able to ease tensions with surrounding neighbors, utility companies, EPA, FAA, U.S. Coast Guard, ODOT and KDOT officials.
Like Phase 2, the first order of business was to completely strip out Cinergy, including the salvage of the remaining stadium seats (approximately 40,000), restrooms, concession stands, offices and other memorabilia items. Again stadium seating was sold at various memorabilia/seat sales. O’Rourke’s crews had to change hats and focus on the retail side of the business.
Fans came from all over the country just to get a piece of Reds’ history.
According to O’Rourke, “Our dedicated employees listened to countless stories of people and their seats. Even Marge Schott, former owner of the Reds, came down for her seat and in exchange she signed autographs in a driving rainstorm for three hours. Her quote to us was, ’Honey, it’s all about the fans.’ We met other great sports legends as well. Marty Brenneman, Hall-of-Fame Reds’ sports announcer, walked into our office to get seats and had some great stories to tell about the stadium as did Hall-of-Famer Johnny Bench, who was excited when he saw his wooden baseball jersey that used to hang on the outfield wall.”
Hometown hero Pete Rose shared some stories with Mike O’Rourke about Mike’s dad, Pat O’Rourke, who grew up in the same Cincinnati neighborhood. Bigger items, such as the player lockers and dugout benches, are slated to be sold at an O’Rourke auction currently scheduled for April 12, 2003.
Before implosion preparations could begin, galbestos panels that cantilevered over the top seating decks of the stadium had to be removed by O’Rourke. The company’s crews removed and disposed of them as nonfriable asbestos containing material waste.
O’Rourke Wrecking subcontracted the implosion work to NADC member D.H. Griffin Wrecking. From their experience at Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium, Steve Pettigrew drilled some 2,000 holes and loaded 1,500 lbs. (680 kgs) of explosives into the concrete support columns. Linear shape charges were utilized to cut through the structural steel members of the stadium.
With the new Great American Ballpark just 10 ft. away, geotextile fabric was hung over the glass windows that were installed just months earlier. Chain link fence and protective geotextile fabric were hung around the inside perimeter of the stadium to prevent debris from flying.
O’Rourke Superintendent Steve Bill made approximately 1,500 cuts in the structural steel to aid in weakening the structure so that it would collapse in the desired direction and keep the debris pile as close to the ground as possible for easy removal. O’Rourke crews had to construct a dirt berm that would block and redirect the rush of air caused by the implosion and could potentially damage the new Great American Ballpark.
Measures were taken to protect the 140 year-old Roebling Suspension bridge just 200 ft. away from Cinergy and the new $100-million National Underground Railroad Freedom Center Museum that stood just 250 ft. away.
Cinergy had tough obstacles on every side and the slightest error would have an effect on the project. Being a hometown company and a huge Reds’ fan, this implosion meant a little more than past implosions for President Mike O’Rourke.
Working through Christmas, crews were ready for the morning of Dec. 29, 2002. Precisely at 8:00 a.m. Cinergy went down bay by bay in 37 seconds. Not even one window was broken in the Great American Ballpark.
A team of Cat excavators, including a Cat 375, and cranes were mobilized to the site to start the long arduous process of clearing the debris. By the time O’Rourke Wrecking Company is finished this summer, some 135,000 cu. yds. (103,215 cu m) of concrete and steel will have been hauled away. Approximately 99 percent of debris from Cinergy will have been recycled. The steel will go to a scrap recycler and the concrete will be crushed and reused as aggregate.
After the site is cleared O’Rourke will turn it over to Hamilton County, who will begin construction of the Reds Hall of Fame Building scheduled to be open in 2004.
(Reprinted with permission from the National Association of Demolition Contractors’ Demolition Magazine.)