Sunday, February 11, 2001
By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer
In a rumble of explosions followed by a cloud of smoke and dust, Three Rivers Stadium was imploded today at 7:59 a.m., ending one chapter in Pittsburgh sports history and ushering in a new one.
The demolition spectacular, followed by a burst of daylight fireworks, drew onlookers from around Western Pennsylvania, some of them gathered hours before the blast in this morning's frigid predawn darkness.
Standing on a platform with the ceremonial plunger that triggered this morning's blast was Elizabeth King and her son Joseph, 16, of Mount Washington along with Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy and Douglas Loizeaux, vice president of the company that rigged the blast, Controlled Demolition Inc.
"My heart is racing but it was fun," said Joseph. "I was amazed after all the dust clears it'll be nothing but a memory." His mother, who also helped to push the plunger, said "I'm shaking. You look over there and it's gone. It's amazing."
After inspecting the stadium wreckage for half an hour, Loizeaux said the demolition was virtually a complete success. "It surpassed our expectation," he said. "I would rate this a 100 percent success."
The most important question was whether the implosion would do any damage to the nearby Steelers Stadium, and the answer to that was no. No scarring of the exterior by flying chunks of concrete, no breaking of windows by vibration or concussion from the explosions.
"The seismograph readings were negligible," hesaid, meaning the ground hardly moved. A large movement of the earth beneath Three Rivers could have damaged the nearby Steelers stadium.
The closest the debris got to the new football stadium was about 45 feet away. "It didn't even get past the ring road" that went around Three Rivers, Loizeaux said.
The steel on the stadium's highest level fell almost straight down onto the concrete rubble,as planned, Loizeaux said.
"It worked perfectly," he said afterward. "You have the steel sticking up in the air about 55 or 60 feet in the air. The rest of the stuff just flattened out. It's broken up, which will really facilitate the debris removal."
PennDOT inspected the Fort Duquesne Bridge immediately after the implosion and at 8:15 a.m. had the bridge and adjoining ramps reopened.
"The vibrations levels there (on the bridge) were next to nothing," Loizeaux said.
The stadium's landlord, the Sports & Exhibition Authority, used two firms, Bianchi Trison Corp. of Syracuse, N.Y., and Controlled Demolition Inc. of Baltimore, to handle the demolition of the North Side landmark.
Bianchi Trison began working in late December to remove the tons of concrete that wasn't part of structural, or load-bearing walls. Controlled Demolition was hired to load the dynamite that brought the huge structure down through implosion, or letting the building cave in on itself once its concrete-and-reinforced-steel columns were blown out.
Originally, city officials had talked about imploding the stadium on Feb. 18, and Mount Washington restaurants rushed to sign people up for breakfasts on that day. Then Bianchi Trison decided it needed more time to remove the rubble and get the stadium site ready for new roads and parking lots, so the demolition date was moved up to Feb. 4.
But then Controlled Demolition decided it couldn't complete loading all 2,700 sticks, or what wound up amounting to more than 4,000 pounds, of dynamite by Feb. 4, so they implosion was pushed back to today.
That upset people who had made arrangements for parties on Feb. 4 to watch the implosion, but Stephen Leeper, director of the Sports & Exhibition Authority, said safety is paramount and more time was needed to load the explosives properly.
The cost of the demolition was $5.1 million. Part of that cost was recouped by selling off $1.5 million in equipment and seats from Three Rivers, including an online auction in November and a public auction in January.
First opened in July 16, 1970, Three Rivers Stadium was 27 months under construction.
Its demolition this morning was part of the city's massive rebuilding of its key sports and convention venues with the construction of the $262 million baseball park, the $284 million football stadium and the $328 million expansion of the David L. Lawrence convention center.
Both of the new stadiums replacing Three Rivers stood within the security cordon set up for today's blast.
Due to open in August, the new Steelers Stadium at some points stood within 65 feet of the adjoining Three Rivers and was swathed in protective fabric in areas facing the older structure to limit collateral damage. PNC Park, the new venue for the Pittsburgh Pirates sitting just blocks away up the Allegheny River, is the last stages of completion with an April 9 opening scheduled.
The fireworks display following the implosion, by Zambelli Fireworks, was launched from Roberto Clemente Park along the Allegheny River and paid for by the Sports & Exhibition Authority.