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Wrecking Ball Strikes Out Busch Stadium

Wed January 04, 2006 - Midwest Edition
Kathie Sutin



After almost 40 years of St. Louis Cardinal memories, the final section of Busch Stadium came down about 24 minutes after midnight December 8.

The demolition was weeks ahead of schedule as crews worked 7 days a week to bring the stadium down. The northern curve was the last section to fall to the wrecking ball.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that a crowd of onlookers cheered and honked their car horns as the final section of the stadium came down on an early Fri. morning, with fireworks launched from the middle of the construction site.

For weeks, even before the demo began Nov. 7, fans gathered outside the stadium to gaze at the structure, take photos in reverence and pay their final respects to an old friend.

When the headache ball made its first hit on the stadium Nov. 7, it was far less dramatic than onlookers who gathered for the historic “first pitch” expected. Since the ball was being swung on the inside of the stadium, the initial hits were barely noticed on the outside, leaving onlookers clearly disappointed.

Many interviewed by television crews said that they had expected something far more dramatic.

Original plans called for imploding the building but later they were changed, and the building was demoed with the time-honored tradition of a 10,000-pound wrecking ball.

Through the last days of the demo, the downtown landscape was noticeably more open with a large part of the Busch gone. Meanwhile, a new $400 million ballpark rises in the west.

The southern half of the stadium was brought down first to allow construction to continue on the new park. The $400 million new ballpark is due for completion by the home opener with Milwaukee April 10.

A new “Ballpark Village” consisting of lofts and condos as well as retail and office space is planned for the space formerly occupied by Busch Stadium’s northern section.

After Houston eliminated the Cardinals from the National League championship series on Oct. 19, workers removed seats and bleachers and began dismantling the interior of the stadium.

The Cards sold seats, sections of bleachers, lockers and other items including urinals from the ballpark in an online auction and at an event held in downtown St. Louis last month.

“Everything is going great,” John Loyd, the St. Louis Cardinals’ representative on the project, said.

"We’re just real happy with the progress,” he continued. “Ahrens Contracting has done a tremendous job of demolishing the superstructure of Busch and now it’s just working to process it down into smaller pieces and backfill the hole.”

Loyd stopped short of suggesting the early demise of Busch would result in a net gain on the final schedule.

“We’re a little bit ahead, but on a project like this it’s kind of hard to really be specific about it,” he said. “We picked up probably two weeks on the demolition schedule but that doesn’t translate into a two-week gain on the overall project.”

Does Loyd expect any problems with getting the new stadium finished by opening day April 10?

“Not at all,” he said. “It’s never easy but I don’t anticipate any difficulty. We’re just real happy with the progress. Ahrens Contracting has done a tremendous job of demolishing the superstructure of Busch and now they’re just working to process it down into smaller pieces and backfill the hole.”

Any recyclable material will be removed, but the concrete is used as fill.

To get ahead of the schedule, Ahrens Contracting, the company doing the demo, sometimes worked around the clock, seven days a week to get ahead.

“They worked 24 hours a day for a couple of weeks, I guess, and then they got far enough ahead to where they didn’t need to work quite as many hours.” Loyd said. He said the company preferred to do the demolition at night.

Ted Ahrens of Ahrens Contracting confirmed that notion.

The night work was done mainly for “safety reasons,” he said, adding, "We did that for the safety of the people around because we were so close to the streets.”

Loyd said Ahrens used “very large mechanical shears, claws, of course they used cranes with wrecking balls and some very large earth moving equipment” to bring Busch down.

Ahrens said the equipment used on the project included “Komatsus, John Deere Trackhoes, trackhoes with universal processors on them. John Deere off-road trucks, a Komatsu 600, a couple of Komatsu 400s.”

It also used a 4000 Manitowoc crane with a 10,000-pound ball, he said.

A deer wandered onto the stadium worksite over Thanksgiving weekend, causing project officials to scramble for help in removing the confused animal. Local media reported that the Missouri Conservation Department declined a request to remove the deer, but Loyd said police were notified and they shot the deer.

He also noted that a recent article in a national newspaper reported that deer on construction sites is a common problem across the country.

The sight of a deer in the middle of downtown St. Louis was amazing to some but Ahrens said deer “swim across the river a lot of times” and end up in downtown.

Ahrens said the deer did not disrupt the demo work.

“We don’t make a big deal out of anything,” he said. “We just keep on going.”

The crews found some relics under the stadium.

“When we were digging up old Spruce Street, we found a bunch of old wood pilings that were used for old buildings,” Ahrens said. “We found some old rail track and some old elevators left behind from some old buildings.”

Ahrens is proud of the fact that his company finished the demo work ahead of schedule.

“We put a lot of equipment on it and a lot of planning went into it,” he said.

“The demolition was done in 30 days. We beat their schedule and got them driving pile a lot earlier.” CEG