- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 19, 2002

Construction of the Washington Convention Center will be completed by the projected date of March 2003, organizers of the building project said yesterday.
Work began in 1998 on the new 2.3 million-square-foot center, which spans six city blocks between Seventh and Ninth streets Northwest, just north of Massachusetts Avenue.
A special rally honoring construction workers was held at lunchtime yesterday inside one of the center's huge halls. The building is capable of housing a horizontally placed Washington Monument.
Lewis H. Dawley, the general manager and chief executive of the Washington Convention Center Authority, greeted nearly 1,500 construction workers at the event. The goal of the rally, he said, was to encourage the workers to keep up their good work at "crunch time" the fourth and final phase of construction, which began yesterday.
Clark/Smoot, a joint venture of Bethesda-based Clark Construction Group Inc., is the main contractor.
The workers also received pats on the backs from city officials.
"I remember when this sight was nothing more than a vacant lot, overgrown, drug dealing, prostitution. It was a wreck here. Now we're three-quarters of the way done, and all of those efforts are due to all of you in this room, who have worked so hard," D.C. Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, told the group.
Council member Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat, also spoke at the rally, which featured live music and a buffet of sandwiches, chili and potato salad. Workers were given T-shirts listing the names of more than 100 subcontractors involved in the job, and the opportunity to listen to a motivational speech by Ken Harvey, a former Washington Redskin linebacker and four-time Pro Bowl player.
Whistles and catcalls erupted when four Redskins cheerleaders joined Mr. Harvey on stage, but the massive open space nearly muted the sounds.
Quincy Barrett, an iron worker who has been working on the center since February, said he has been impressed by the magnitude of the project. "It's a big job," he said. "Everybody's used to one-block jobs that might go up five stories, but when you're working with a six-block footprint, that's a big job."
Final building costs are on pace to hit $799 million, but city officials and business leaders are confident the building will become profitable soon after opening.
"The city is going to immediately reap the benefits of this investment, and that's what our goal is," Mr. Dawley said. "We're not just trying to get it done on time to get it done on time. Our first clients are scheduled to come in April."
One hundred and sixty major events have been scheduled for the venue from April 2003 through 2013, and officials say the center will give the metropolitan area a $1.4 billion annual economic thrust.
Like every laborer who has worked on the center, Mr. Barrett, 30, is labor union member. Officials with the convention center authority said as many as 4,000 union workers have been employed in phases over the past four years. The total number of new hires exceeded 3,200, and nearly 900 were D.C. residents.
Iron worker Jeffrey Watts, 34, said safety was made a priority during construction, especially after a section of the center's roof collapsed late one night in April last year. No one was hurt, and Mr. Dawley yesterday referred to it as "a minor setback."


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