Work Speeds Ahead on Replacing Century-Old Bridges With Tunnel

Las Vegas’ Stardust Casino Reduced to Rubble

Tue May 01, 2007 - Midwest Edition
Rebecca Ragain



Fame is fickle, especially on the Las Vegas Strip.

On March 13, at 2:30 a.m. local time, one of the last remaining grand dames of the Las Vegas Strip, the Stardust resort and casino, was imploded after a show of fireworks.

The implosion simultaneously demolished a 32-story tower and a nine-story building. The latter was part of the original resort, which opened in 1958.

At the time, the Stardust was considered luxurious, with 1,032 rooms. It attracted legendary characters such as Frank Sinatra and Siegfried and Roy, and inspired the book Casino and the movie of the same name.

The 32-story tower was built in 1989. On March 13, it became the tallest structure ever imploded on the Las Vegas Strip.

Early that Tuesday morning, hundreds watched as 428 lbs. of explosives were detonated. The two structures, totaling 879,591 sq. ft. (81,716 m), took less than 10 seconds to collapse.

The demolition of the two structures was the most dramatic phase of the $10 million-plus project, which included remediation and demolition of 27 structures on the 63-acre (25.5 ha) site. Together, the buildings scheduled for demolition total approximately two million sq. ft. (185,806 sq m).

Las Vegas-based LVI Environmental Services of Nevada was selected in the summer of 2006 as the remediation and demolition contractor. The same Las Vegas team previously had handled the implosions of the Castaways, Sands, El Rancho, Desert Inn and original Aladdin casinos.

LVI Environmental Services of Nevada is a subsidiary of LVI Services Inc., which bills itself as the nation’s largest remediation and facility services firm. The company’s annual revenues exceed $300 million.

During the course of the Stardust project, Joe Catania, president of LVI Environmental Services of Nevada, said that the Las Vegas branch drew upon the management skills and organization of the parent company.

“Because we are LVI, a very large company, we have the resources to pull from all over the company,” said Catania, adding that LVI had 150 people on site at one point during the demolition process.

Even with substantial resources to draw upon, the demolition schedule was still tight, considering the square footage and number of buildings involved. Catania pointed out that LVI had only 45 days to prepare the 32-story and nine-story buildings for implosion.

The Stardust closed its doors Nov. 1, 2006. On Dec. 18, LVI began work.

Aside from the tight deadline, so far the job has been a relatively standard one for LVI.

Because LVI’s Las Vegas team has handled five similar projects over the last 10 years, they knew what to expect.

“We can jump into these fast-paced projects and get them done,” Catania said. “We don’t have to re-invent the wheel.”

It started with asbestos abatement, removing more than 100,000 sq. ft. (929 sq m) of asbestos-containing materials from the property. Following that, the company mechanically demolished interior non-load bearing walls and internal structures.

The Stardust project required the same equipment that LVI regularly employs, such as excavators ranging from 75,000 to 175,000 lbs. (34,000 to 79,378 kg).

To strip the interior finishes, LVI used 16 Bobcat skid steer loaders. Brock pneumatic hammers were operated by remote control to weaken the shear walls.

“That’s a specialty tool, but we use them every day,” said Catania.

Once all that was left of the towers was concrete and steel, the crews drilled the columns and placed the dynamite.

Although LVI managed the site before, during and after implosion, the actual implosion was subcontracted to Controlled Demolition Inc.

Catania said that one of the biggest challenges with this type of high-profile project is making sure, through road closures and other security precautions, that the public stays safely away from the implosion area.

“We don’t need half a million people down there,” Catania said. “We just want to do our implosion.”

After the Stardust towers imploded in an impressive rush, the crowds went home. As far as they were concerned, those last few seconds of fame marked the end of the Stardust.

“People think that when the building goes down, the job is over,” Catania said.

But for the demolition crews, that was far from the truth.

Immediately following the implosion, LVI began cleaning up the dust caused by the collapse. Sixty people were on standby, ready with vacuum trucks and water trucks. Catania was proud to say that Las Vegas Boulevard re-opened within an hour of implosion.

Next, the “real work” began, as Catania called the process of removing the underground concrete, the foundations and footings that remained intact after the implosion.

“We’ll go in there with large hydraulic hammers mounted on excavators and break them up in place, then dig out the rubble,” explained Catania.

LVI brought in a crushing plant to deal with the estimated 130,000 tons (117,934 t) of concrete rubble.

At the end of April, they began crushing 3,000 tons (2,721 t) of concrete per day, reducing it to a base material that a broker could sell to other Las Vegas-area construction projects.

Pieces that were too large to crush, or that had too much rebar embedded, would be hauled off separately, said Catania.

In addition to cleaning up the remains of the towers, LVI was conventionally demolishing other two and three-story buildings, including the old Boyd Gaming corporate offices.

By August 1, when LVI is scheduled to complete the job, 170,000 tons (154,221 t) of debris will have been removed from the site of the Stardust, making way for the development of property owner Boyd Gaming Corporation’s new Echelon Place resort.

The plan for Echelon Place is a multi-use complex with four hotels and 5,300 guest rooms, a retail promenade with more than 350,000 sq. ft. (32,516 sq m) of shops, and a convention center exceeding 1 million sq. ft. (92,903 sq m).

With a price tag of more than $4 billion, Echelon Place is said to be the second most expensive single hospitality industry development ever undertaken, after MGM Mirage’s $6 billion project, according to an article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Echelon’s construction is scheduled to begin in the second quarter of 2007. The resort is expected to open in the third quarter of 2010.

Boyd Gaming Corporation has launched a Web site (eschelonresort.com) for those interested in following the resort’s development. The site includes a tab entitled “Doing Business with Echelon,” aimed at service providers in industries such as food supply, software systems and construction. CEG