Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Bucks Top Off New Arena

4,400-pound steel beam symbolizes the peak of new arena's construction.

By - Aug 24th, 2017 03:42 pm
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Topping Off Ceremony Beam. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Topping Off Ceremony Beam. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Fourteen months after construction started, work has reached its high point on the new arena. The Milwaukee Bucks held a ceremony Thursday morning to celebrate raising the final major piece of the roof structure for the Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center. According to team representatives the $524 million project is 55 percent complete, and is currently both on budget and on time.

Over 700 workers, including many participants in the city’s Residents Preference Program, were on hand to watch the beam be lifted into place. Three members of Iron Workers Local 8 performed the work, with one lifting the beam and two on lifts high above the ground connecting the beam to the ceiling super structure. The lift was done in a matter of minutes, far shorter than the speeches that preceded it.

On hand at the ceremony were a number of players involved in making the arena possible, from publicly financing it to building it. Jim Paschke, longtime Bucks television announcer, emceed the feel-good event and was the first of many speakers to thank the construction workers for their hard work.

Paschke was followed by Bucks president Peter Feigin who stated “this is about much more than building an arena,” proclaiming the project was not just transforming Downtown and putting people to work, but moving Wisconsin forward. Feigin then went on to joke “enjoy it for 30 seconds, then let’s get back to it.”

Feigin was followed by Steve Richman, president of Milwaukee Electric Tool. Richman’s firm is the naming rights sponsor for the construction site. And a quick survey of the job site will show workers wielding a vast array of Milwaukee-branded power tools.

Richman was followed by a parade of government officials, including Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, Mayor Tom Barrett and Department of Administration Secretary Scott Neitzel. Neitzel, who was representing the governor and is the chair of the Wisconsin Center District board that officially owns the arena, noted “today we are doing a topping off ceremony, but we have to remember what is at the foundation.” He praised the ability of the city, county and state to come together to get deal financed and the Bucks to get the project rolling.

Barrett in his brief remarks thanked the Bucks for exceeding their Residents Preference Program and Small Business Enterprise targets. Both are city programs, one targeted at hiring under- or unemployed city residents and the other at building the capacity of minority-owned businesses. Abele praised the Bucks catalytic investment and commitment to the city before sneaking in a joke about learning where his season tickets will be in the new arena (his current ones straddle the half-court line in the front row of the BMO Harris Bradley Center). All were quick to praise the hundreds of workers in attendance.

Adding a bit of levity to what felt like a series of stump speeches, after every speech one construction worker standing behind me kept remarking “you can tell he’s a politician.”

Other elected officials in attendance included Common Council members Cavalier Johnson, Chantia Lewis, Jose G. Perez, Mark Borkowski, Robert Bauman and Michael Murphy. No Milwaukee County supervisors or state elected officials were spotted at the event.

Last to speak were Derek Cunz and Mike Sorge of Mortenson Construction. Cunz, almost as if he couldn’t believe it, noted “this is an amazing project to be on time and on budget.” He went on to thank the more than 2,000 craft workers that have worked on the job site to-date. Sorge explained to the audience why a small fake pine tree was attached to the beam. According to Sorge the tree symbolizes “our efficient utilization of natural resources,” including an extensive recycling effort. Once the Mortenson representatives were done firing up the team, they turned it over to project general superintendent Denver Callahan to lead the raising of the beam.

Once the beam was lifted many workers made their way up to the mayor or Bucks mascot Bango to get their photo taken, while others scurried about to enter a raffle and queue up for a free lunch. While they were all together for a brief period to watch the beam be raised, it was quickly back to work for the 700-plus member crew who can be found spread out all over the job site doing a dizzying amount of work ranging from framing out the locker rooms and concession stands with hammers to utilizing massive cranes to install escalators and facade panels.

The arena exterior is scheduled to be sealed by the time Thanksgiving rolls around, with the Bucks scheduled to play their first games in the new facility in the fall of 2018.

Photo Gallery

About That Beam

The piece lifted Thursday morning, which will be joined by a second piece by the time you read this, is 42 feet long and over a foot tall. It weighs 4,400 pounds. The steel beam was milled in Arkansas and fabricated in Schofield, Wisconsin.

Adding a trivial amount of weight was the ink from hundreds of signatures. The construction crew, team employees and season ticket holders had spent the past day signing the beam. During the speech Barrett noted that the construction crew will be able to tell their grand children about working on the arena. Barrett didn’t note that if the grand kids don’t believe them, they can sneak binoculars into the arena and look up over center court to see their grand parents name hanging from the rafters alongside the likes of Oscar Robertson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Sidney Moncrief.

The ceiling and roof structure work is being led by Merrill Steel and their subcontractor J.P. Cullen. Mortenson Construction is leading the construction of the arena.

Beam Lift

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More about the New Bucks Arena

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