- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 15, 2002

It began as Capital Centre, then was renamed USAir Arena, then US Airways Arena when the last of the area's major pro teams played there. The Landover arena, former home of the Washington Wizards' franchise and Capitals, will become a pile of rubble following its demolition at 8a.m. today as the business of blowing up stadiums and arenas continues to boom.
A logical aftereffect of the unprecedented wave of stadium and arena development since the late 1980s, demolition of the outdated, vacated and replaced sports facilities is now experiencing its own spurt of increased activity. Think for a moment of some of the more prominent stadiums of the 1970s and 1980s. Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Denver's Mile High Stadium. The Kingdome in Seattle. Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. Each was the home of a league champion at one point.
They're all gone, along with more than a dozen other major league facilities since the mid 1990s. And the removal of each required a highly complex demolition requiring months of work and a price tag of between $2million and $10million.
There is no firm sustaining a full-time business solely on the demolition of stadiums and arenas. For Controlled Demolition Inc. (CDI), based in Phoenix, Md., the industry leader and company behind this morning's implosion off the Beltway, sports work represents at most 15 percent of its business. But there are few projects as powerful for generating publicity and establishing a visible portfolio for future contracts.
"People do come out to see these things go down," said Mark Loizeaux, CDI president. "They get on the news. They're on front pages of newspapers. It's obviously a very visible, notable type of structure. There are lot of emotions in tearing down stadiums. They're the sites of a lot of memories for a lot of people.
"And it's not only sports for [stadiums and arenas]. My daughter, who's also involved in the company, is a big Elvis fan and she keeps getting on me because I keep tearing down places where he played, like Market Square [Arena] in Indianapolis, the site of his last concert. I don't know what to tell her except that Graceland is safe."
Eric J. Spirtas, president of St. Louis-based Spirtas Wrecking Co., concurs on the power of demolishing stadiums and arenas. The company imploded St. Louis Arena in 1999 and quickly landed subsequent contracts for Mile High Stadium and McNichols Arena in Denver and a portion of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.
"You start to do one, you learn about everything involved, look around at the rest of the marketplace and realize you can do it again and again," Spirtas said. "There are still a lot of stadiums out there that are roughly the same age and now hitting the point where they no longer meet the needs of the teams and communities involved. So there will be a lot more of these [demolitions] before there are a lot less."
Stadium demolition not only gets more publicity than nearly any other type of building removal, it's also one of the most complex. Because stadiums and arenas are by design open spaces holding mass numbers of people, they also assume more stored energy in construction than any house and most office and industrial buildings. During the demolition, that stored energy becomes kinetic, and if not properly controlled, can dangerously throw off chunks of the building.
US Airways Arena still Cap Centre in the minds and hearts of nearly all local sports fans is particularly challenging from that engineering perspective. The distinctive, saddle-shaped roof was in part supported by a series of tension cables stretched-out rubber bands in layman's terms. The implosion was a multi-part process that first needed to safely reduce the tension from those cables and then go about the main work of demolishing the structure. Also, the headquarters for the Washington/Baltimore Ticketmaster franchise are less than 200 feet from the arena.
"Stadiums and arenas are very difficult, very challenging to demolish," Loizeaux said. "It's kind of like a souffle. There's all this air, all this stored energy that has to be managed. And all the weight is around the perimeter of the building. It's not evenly distributed. And, of course, they're very large buildings. So there are many, many technical elements to this."
In many cases, stadium demolitions are sad events, akin to watching the passing of an old friend. But watching dank, dark Capital Centre fall will be a catharsis for many fans who hated the suburban facility. Either way, projects such as these allows the wrecking companies to revel in their chosen field.
It also offers a unique way to mark the passage of time. CDI demolished warehouses in Pittsburgh in the late 1960s to make room for Three Rivers Stadium. Thirty-one years after opening, Three Rivers itself was on the receiving end of CDI's explosives.
"This is an incredibly cool job. We literally change the face of cityscapes and get instant gratification in our work," Loizeaux said. "We know right away if a job went well. So [destroying Capital Centre] is a very big deal to us."
Beltway will be shut down for Cap Centre demolition.

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