Outta the Park

Spring hasn't been kind to Jerry Colangelo.
His Arizona Diamondbacks (20-43 as of June 8) are off to one of the worst starts in baseball.

His Phoenix Suns exited the National Basketball Association playoffs with barely a whimper while collecting only a pittance in the playoff revenue gravy train. Looming later this summer is nasty confrontion with the NBA players union that could lead to a lockout.

The Diamondbacks and Suns problems have been further aggravated by Colangelo's own blunders. Unnerved last month by tough questions on HBO's Real Sports, Colangelo stormed off the set declaring, "You know, this is bullshit." He later apologized.

The HBO fiasco set the stage for a June 1 Sports Illustrated missive that ripped the Diamondbacks for lousy play, arrogance, dumb personnel decisions and Colangelo's open-wallet policy--not to mention the overzealous security guards who refuse to let one of the team's best prospects, pitcher Brian Anderson, enter the stadium.

Instead of basking in glory in the ballpark he promised would finally make Phoenix a world-class city, Colangelo appears he could use a long vacation. He seems the picture of despair, often sitting alone, long-faced, in his front row seat.

What's up, Jerry? It's just a game.
But it's not merely a game for Colangelo. It's a business. And the cost of doing business is going up, way up.

The thought of another $35 million being sucked out of his pocket to cover the latest cost overruns at Bank One Ballpark must be tough to ignore.

The standoff in the forefront of Colangelo's mind has nothing to do with, say, Anderson facing Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire. Instead, Colangelo's thoughts can't stray too far from the upcoming faceoff between Perini/Tutor-Saliba and Huber, Hunt & Nichols.

Perini/Tutor-Saliba is the largest single contractor at Bank One Ballpark. The company is seeking another $25 million for itself and its eight subcontractors for building the stadium. The $25 million is in addition to $10 million in claims already pending. Added together, the $35 million would jack up the cost of the ballpark to about $390 million.

Huber, Hunt & Nichols is Colangelo's handpicked construction manager for the stadium. It will be up to Huber, Hunt & Nichols, along with the stadium's architects, Ellerbe Becket, to review Perini/Tutor-Saliba's request for more cash and determine whether it is justified.

The stakes are high. Every dollar paid to Perini/Tutor-Saliba and its subs will come out of the Arizona Diamondbacks pockets. Colangelo and his stable of corporate partners are responsible for all ballpark construction costs over $238 million. Maricopa County taxpayers covered the balance through a quarter-cent sales tax that expired last December.

The skyrocketing stadium construction costs are an aberration to Colangelo's vaunted business acumen. Investors were told in 1995 to expect to chip in about $41 million for stadium construction. If the final bill comes in at $390 million, Colangelo and his partners will be stuck for $152 million--a whopping 370 percent increase.

Expect Huber, Hunt & Nichols to keep the Diamondbacks' tab as low as possible. But that won't be the end of the game. The construction contract calls for a lengthy binding arbitration process that would likely unleash a round of nasty fingerpointing over the multitude of problems that cropped up during construction and continue to persist.

The biggest problem has been and continues to be the retractable roof. Perini/Tutor Saliba states in reports filed with the Maricopa County Stadium District that the roof--which is still undergoing repairs and constant adjustments--cost at least $70 million.

The latest problem: the unexpected stretching of the steel cables that open and close the six movable roof panels. The 12 five-inch diameter cables were supposed to be pre-stretched and ready to pull open and close the massive roof panels.

But the cables continue to lengthen like taffy, requiring contractors to cut off ends of the cables and retighten them to between 25,000 and 30,000 pounds of tension. District records indicate the cables already have been cut and retightened three or four times at a cost of about $100,000 per tensioning. It has not been determined who will pay for the adjustments, the contractors or the team.

The slack cables are in turn causing problems in adjusting the roof panels. The roof panels do not fit squarely on the rails that span the north and south sides of the ballpark because of an assortment of other construction and design problems. Consequently, the cables are being used not only to pull the roof panels, but to also skew the panels into the proper position.

Keeping the panels in the proper position is vital to the operation of the roof and to operating costs. The opening and closing of the roof during the past three months, when at least one panel was more than six inches out of alignment, has put so much stress on wheels that support the roof that bushings inside a dozen wheels already need to be replaced. The district is unsure how much the latest repair will cost or, like the cable problem, who will pay.

All but one of the panels is currently skewed into proper position, says Roger Brendecke of the stadium district.

The merry-go-round of problems associated with the ballpark's roof have proven expensive to many contractors, but none more than Phoenix-based Schuff Steel. Schuff is seeking at least $9 million of the $35 million that Perini/Tutor-Saliba is demanding from the Diamondbacks.

Schuff claims it was required to expend 83,000 additional manhours, equal to 83 ironworkers working fulltime for six months, to handle changes in design and extra work related to the roof. One design change that required a significant repair to the roof last summer cost more than $2 million and took three months to complete.

Other contractors seeking additional payments include Perini/Tutor-Saliba at $5.4 million, University Mechanical at $3.88 million, Wilson Electric at $1.7 million and TPAC at $1.9 million.

Like most of the contractors, Scott Schuff, president of Schuff Steel, is reluctant to publicly discuss the stadium project. Calls to Perini/Tutor Saliba, the Diamondbacks and numerous other contractors were not returned.

"It wouldn't be in their best interest or our best interest to talk about it," Schuff says.

But Schuff does mention a few of his concerns. He says the big cost overruns--and the attendant disputes between contractors, the team and the stadium district, which owns the stadium--were fueled by the breakneck pace of designing and building a stadium unlike any other in the world.

Until the final arbitration process is completed, Schuff says he's keeping a low profile.

"If it doesn't work out right," Schuff says, "I would love to talk about it."

The ongoing construction cost disputes, the persistent and expensive problems with the ballpark's roof and the lackluster performance of the Diamondbacks add up to more problems for Colangelo.

And as rough as spring has been, summer is only likely to get worse.

Contact John Dougherty at his online address:

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