THE HOUSE THAT YOU BUILT

IF QUESTIONS ABOUT ITS RETRACTABLE ROOF, POWER-HUNGRY AIR CONDITIONERS AND SUN-STARVED GRASS CAN BE ANSWERED, BANK ONE BALLPARK WILL BE A STATE-OF-THE-ART VENUE. FOR SEPARATING FANS AND TAXPAYERS FROM THEIR MONEY.

Going to court appears to have greatly increased the compensation property owners will receive. King's Onion House at 425 East Jackson increased its land sales price and relocation compensation to $6.2 million from the district's original offer of $2.1 million.

Other property owners are continuing to negotiate over price, but all have been ordered by Maricopa County Superior Court to vacate their land by different dates over the next eight months, depending on construction schedules.

The cost of acquiring the property is included in the overall cost of the stadium. If King's Onion is any indication of how other property owners will fare, the Diamondbacks could be on the hook for higher-than-anticipated property settlements.

The delay in obtaining the property is also forcing ballpark designers and contractors to reconfigure their schedules. This costly, stressful procedure is triggering a chain reaction that ripples throughout the project.

Huber, Hunt and Nichols, the Indianapolis-based firm that built America West Arena and landed a $5 million contract to oversee construction of the ballpark, hopes to regain four to six weeks by accelerating the schedule for erecting the massive 500-foot-long steel frames that will support the retractable roof of the stadium. To accomplish this, Huber Hunt is urging the stadium district to avoid competitive bidding by entering a $1.7 million sole-source contract for specialty steel from a mill in Luxembourg.

The redesign is causing considerable stress for the structural engineers designing the steel frame. The Wheat Ridge, Colorado, engineering firm of Martin/Martin was focusing its energy on the stadium's concrete foundations. Now, the firm is switching, midstream, to concentrate on the steel support structures.

"Due to the short notice, we will be forced to be inefficient in our design," Stanley Welton, principal engineer for the firm, said in an August 3 letter to Ellerbe Becket.

Welton estimated the design change would increase the $2.4 million subcontract with Ellerbe Becket by $107,000. While the increase is relatively small, the potential for further problems is underscored by Welton's gloomy assessment of the challenge ahead.

"It will be a monumental effort on our part, as well as for the rest of the design team, to meet the proposed schedule," Welton concluded in his August 3 letter.

At the same time the team is scrambling to make up lost time, there are indications that Colangelo is willing to sacrifice at least some quality and comfort to save money.

In June, Colangelo ordered designers to slice four feet from the distance to the center-field wall, making it 401 feet from home plate. He also eliminated a 25-foot-high wall that was planned for center field, replacing it with a seven-foot-high fence. The changes allow 460 seats to be added to center field. Another 175 seats were added in the upper deck.

Ellerbe Becket architects suggested that the additional seats would require an increase in the number of support facilities--such as toilets and concession areas.

Adding seats is fine, but Colangelo put his foot down on extra amenities.
"Jerry Colangelo felt that because the team had exceeded the code minimum for toilets no additional toilets should be provided," the minutes of the June 21 meeting between the team and its architects state.

The number of toilets aside, Colangelo also appears determined to minimize team maintenance costs by literally sweeping the dirt under the carpet. While Colangelo wants his $100,000-a-year luxury suites to "speak of money," according to the June 21 meeting minutes, he's ordered designers to use only dark colors in the suites so dirt and grime will blend in with the background, reducing upkeep.

"This is a big concern for the team," the minutes note.
The shortcuts may prove to be only minor drawbacks in a customer-pleasing ballpark. The Diamondbacks have spent several million extra dollars to make sure 472 wheelchair slots have unobstructed views of the field and scoreboard.

In fact, the team also is paying great attention to views from all seating areas. Colangelo has requested that 30,000 seats be angled toward home plate to make watching the game more comfortable. Most of the seats, however, will be only 19 inches wide, down an inch from the standard 20-inch seats. The reason: Phoenix residents, who won't be wearing bulky coats to the stadium, can tolerate slightly narrower seats. The seats will be slightly wider than the 18 3/4-inch coach seats used by Southwest Airlines.

Even if the Diamondbacks avoid problems stemming from construction delays, other significant challenges remain, given the promises Colangelo made when persuading county supervisors to approve the sales tax. Colangelo assured the supervisors that he would deliver the finest baseball stadium in the land, complete with three major features never built together in one stadium--a retractable roof, an air-conditioning system powerful enough to combat desert heat, and a natural-grass field.

Retractable-dome stadiums have proved to be risky and costly endeavors.
The only two constructed in North America have been in Canada. Montreal built the Olympic Stadium for the 1976 Summer Olympics. The roof has never worked.

The retractable roof on Toronto's stadium, the SkyDome, works, but the project was dreadfully expensive with cost overruns exceeding $500 million (although much of the added expense was not related to the roof).

Bank One Ballpark will be the third attempt at obtaining retractable-roof baseball nirvana.

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