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Only a Memory: Crews Clear Remnants of Miami Arena

Wed December 24, 2008 - Southeast Edition
Jeff Brooks

For the second time this year a Miami sports venue has been reduced to a twisted pile of concrete and steel.

Earlier this year, the legendary Orange Bowl was demolished to make way for a new stadium for the Florida Marlins baseball team. On Sept. 21 at 8:06 a.m. black plumes of smoke could be seen as 175 lbs. of explosive charges rigged to the steel trusses detonated, imploding the Miami Arena’s roof, bringing an end to what was known as the Pink Elephant because of its pink colored walls.

Completed in 1988 at a cost of $52.5 million, the Miami Arena was home to several sports teams, including the Miami Heat, Florida Panthers, the University of Miami basketball team and the Miami Hooters of the Arena Football League. The arena marked its opening with a Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli and Sammy Davis Jr. concert.

After the Heat moved to the American Airlines Arena in 2000 and the Panthers left to play at the BankAtlantic Center, the arena became mostly inactive. It was sold at a public auction in 2004 to Glenn Straub, an investor from Palm Beach County, for $28 million. A decision still hasn’t been made as to what will replace the arena, but possibilities for the five-acre site include an aquarium, a venue for a show similar to Cirque de Soleil or a movie production studio.

“I want to get the demolition out of the way,” Straub told the Miami Herald. “Once we have this done we can get on with our lives.”

At this point, the demolition is nearly complete with the BG Group, which was the project’s prime contractor, clearing debris from the site. Coeur D’Alene, Idaho-based Advanced Explosives Demolition Inc. handled the implosion.

“Everything went off as planned,” said Lisa Kelly, owner of Advanced Explosives, adding the only hitch was a six-minute delay for officials to get people on neighboring balconies to go inside. The company spent several days leading up to the implosion rigging the explosives along the beams in 2-ft. (0.6 m) sections.

“We got up at the crack of dawn,” Isabelle Stepniak told the Miami Herald as she sipped a coffee near the arena. “All for entertainment value.”

Advanced Explosives Vice President Eric Kelly founded the company 30 years ago, realizing a dream that begin at age 14 when he helped his father blast a smoke stack.

As the “new kid” on the block he established himself by taking on projects that were “high and hazardous work,” which competitors suggested could not be done. Kelly also worked in many steel mills where he revolutionized techniques for bringing down steel structures.

Incorporating in 2001, Kelly joined forces with his wife, Lisa, to form Advanced.

“We’re not really a prime demo contractor. We’ll blow the building down. We selectively trip the structure, essentially taking a problem like that and putting it on the ground for the contractor. Then a smaller excavating contractor will do the clean up,” Kelly said.

Kelly added his company recently completed a job in India where the contractor tried to blow down a tower and it fell the wrong way and leaned against another building. That’s just the type of problem Advanced can handle, Kelly said.

“It was falling in the wrong direction in two ways,” Kelly said. “We went over and by mechanical means put the tower straight up and then dropped it down for them.”

Kelly said for the Miami Arena, the contractor had some management and scheduling problems, which led to Advanced Demolition getting a phone call.

“He was behind schedule,” Kelly said. “He was eating up his liquidated damages and he said, ’I’m in a bind can you help us out?’ We had the people and capabilities, so we just knocked the rest of the arena down for him.”

After the implosion, the arena’s four walls were left standing, something Kelly said was not unusual for that type of structure.

“What we did was we took the roof,” Kelly said. “Our job was we blew the roof. The contractor was impressed with the way our work went on that — it took us only three days — and they gave me a price to take the rest of it down, so that’s what we did.”

Besides the explosives, Kelly said they used a Volvo 460 excavator with a LaBounty 3,000R sheer. For the steel, they used a Komatsu PC300LC with a UP30 to pulverize the concrete.

Advanced Demolition’s doesn’t own its equipment and rents from dealers near the job site.

For the Miami Arena it used Plantation, Fla.-based Company Wrench and Briggs in Miami.

“Company Wrench, they specialize in demolition,” Kelly said. “They’re awesome people. I recommend them all around the U.S. and Canada because they’re supportive. No matter where you’re at, if a piece of equipment breaks down they have somebody there within a day.”

Kelly said there were no other subcontractors on site. Advanced did the demolition and the BG Group handled the clean up.

Some specialty equipment has been used, Kelly said, such as sheers, multiprocessors and hydraulic brakes, mostly for the demolition and for recycling the material. Approximately 25,000 tons (22,680 t) of concrete and 3,000 tons (2,721 t) of steel and rebar have been removed, some of which is being recycled. About 13 workers were involved in the demolition, five from Advanced and eight from the BG Group.

Kelly said the Miami Arena project didn’t offer any special challenges, but the company is always on the lookout for something unexpected.

“Our biggest challenge is avoiding something like a premature collapse or the unexpected,” Kelly said. “A lot of times you have what we call a Monday column and a Friday column. The Monday columns are always nice, good, hard concrete and the Friday columns, everybody is in a hurry to get home so they’re not quite as good as the other. Aside from that, time. Everybody is always in a hurry. The owner was in a hurry to get it down. He spent $28 million for the site and he wanted to redevelop the site.”

At this point, Kelly said, it has “done our work and moved on. We’re halfway through a project in Cincinnati, then down to Dallas to blow down a boiler there. We did a project in Mt. Caramel, Illinois, a silo project.”

After 30 years in the demolition business, Kelly has maintained a perfect safety record while building a well-respected international reputation.

“We’re very blessed,” Kelly said. “We have a whole bunch of work and we’re very well-respected. Over the last 30 years I can’t say it’s easier, but it’s definitely more regulated in a positive way because environmental concerns are always addressed and you’re always recycling, which is good because a lot of the products are nonrenewable resources. Even the concrete has become quite a valuable commodity.”

BG Group currently is in the final stages of cleaning the debris and crushing the concrete for recycling.

Before the implosion, the interior had already been gutted and the seats removed. The pieces of nostalgia are being stored in a warehouse and will be sold on eBay. Miami police and fire rescue used the inside of the arena for two days to practice rescue drills.

“It went off with a bang,” said Dan Jere, project superintendent of Advanced. “Always does.”

(This story also can be found on Construction Equipment Guide’s Web site at CEG

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