- Associated Press - Thursday, June 2, 2016

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) - Three construction workers in a basket dangling from a crane hovered high above the 10-yard line at the Miami Dolphins’ stadium Thursday.

Beneath them the field was covered with rock, which these days serves as a staging area for the installation of an enormous canopy.

The first game of the 2016 season is three months away, and the stadium is far from ready. But Dolphins officials say they’re on schedule with a major renovation, thanks to crews working around the clock since late December, which has pushed the cost to $500 million.

“It looks like we have a lot of work left to do, and we do,” said Bill Senn, senior vice president of stadium renovations. “But we have every confidence we will be ready. We are in good shape.”

Senn stood in the lower bowl as he spoke, the scope of the project underscored by the cranes towering above him in all directions. In the stadium’s four corners, a skeletal assembly of trusses awaited the canopy, and two of the four new scoreboards were in place. Workers scurried about, and at the front entrance, one of them swept the sidewalk.

Even so, the place is a mess. That’s the reason team president Tom Garfinkel keeps hearing the same question.

“I don’t know how many times I have to say it, but right now we’re currently on schedule,” Garfinkel said. “Barring unforeseen circumstances, the stadium will be football-ready. Now things could change. A lot of things happen in a project this complex.”

On Wednesday, the NFL announced the Dolphins’ first home exhibition game against Atlanta on Aug. 25 was being moved to Orlando, where it will serve as a dry run for the Pro Bowl to be held there for the first time.

Garfinkel said the switch had nothing to do with Miami’s renovation, but it does provide a little extra time before the first home game, which will now be the Dolphins’ preseason finale Sept. 1 against the Tennessee Titans.

The Miami Hurricanes are scheduled to open their season in the stadium Sept. 3 against Florida A&M.; The 2015 and 2016 seasons left an eight-month window for the canopy to be installed, and the most difficult work is now done, Senn said.

“The reality is we have 102 major sequences we have to erect,” he said. “We have put 73 of those in place. We have another 29 to go, and they are much simpler construction than what we have done. So we will be ready.”

Designed to protect spectators from sun and rain, the canopy is actually phase two of a project that began in June 2014. The final phase, scheduled for early 2017, will involve renovation of the suite and club levels.

Stephen Ross, who owns the team and stadium, decided to pay for the project himself with the goal of luring more big events to the facility. He has already been rewarded - last week the NFL voted to play the 2020 Super Bowl in Miami.

As for Dolphins games, Garfinkel said ticket sales are ahead of last year’s pace, and he expects every game to sell out. But he anticipates that new coach Adam Gase will do more to help business than any renovations could.

“The stadium itself, I think it’s tough to really understand how spectacular it’s going to be until people come out and see it for themselves,” he said. “But to be clear, the best experience is still winning football games. That’s the first priority.”

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Steve_Wine. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/steven-wine

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