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Stadium damage 'concerning'

A large panel falls 30 feet, and more appear to be damaged. The task now: fix it all before the Bucs play in August.

Published July 1, 2005

[Tampa Sports Authority]
In this view from above the damage, the soffit panel debris sits on seats in the club level of Raymond James Stadium after it fell in mid June. Repairing the damage and removing more panels could cost $600,000.
[Times photo: Chris Zuppa]
Scaffolding is erected under the area where the soffit fell as workers try to repair the damage before the Buccaneers' first preseason game Aug. 20.

TAMPA - Construction crews are rushing to fix an overhang at Raymond James Stadium after part of a 28-foot panel fell onto club-level seating, about 30 feet below.

No one was inside the stadium when the water-damaged soffit broke free sometime during the rainy June 11-12 weekend.

The debris damaged part of a Winn-Dixie advertising sign. Tampa Sports Authority officials said they did not know the weight of the soffit, which is under the portion of upper deck that overhangs the luxury suites and club seating.

Consultants hired by the sports authority since have found several other panels with water damage, and the authority has decided to remove all of them.

The repairs will cost an estimated $500,000 to $600,000, and will fall to taxpayers.

The work must be completed by Aug.20, the first Tampa Bay Buccaneers home preseason game. No other events are scheduled inside the stadium before that game.

"It's very concerning," said Patrick Manteiga, vice chairman of the Tampa Sports Authority board of directors. "We're glad we found out about it when we did, which was in the offseason. We're going to make sure the stadium is safe."

Sports authority board members approved initial expenses Monday, roughly $150,000 for scaffolding and $48,000 to tear out the other sections of soffit.

Those payments were approved through an emergency motion that obviates usual bidding requirements so work can proceed quickly. The sports authority will meet today to consider the balance of repair costs.

Because the sports authority spends more money than it makes, financial operating shortfalls are covered by taxpayers. Hillsborough County government must assume two-thirds of financial losses and the city of Tampa takes on the rest.

TSA attorney John Van Voris said both Mayor Pam Iorio and County Administrator Pat Bean signed off on the initial expenditure for scaffolding and demolition work. They are awaiting replacement estimates.

On Thursday, crews worked to remove the remaining damaged soffit.

Stadium maintenance staff noticed one panel was sagging the Friday before it collapsed on sections 236 and 237 on the east side of the stadium. The soffit panel, similar to drywall with a protective stucco-like coating, fell about 30 feet, said sports authority spokeswoman Barbara Casey.

The falling panel damaged the "E' on a lighted Winn-Dixie advertising sign just below it.

Sports authority officials aren't sure whether wind or rain caused the panel to fall.

However, in a report to the sports authority, consultants with HOK Sport+Venue+Event found that water has been seeping through seams in and around the soffit, damaging its interior, which does not have the same protective stucco veneer.

During inspections June 20-24, the group found at least nine other panels around the stadium with some damage.

The consultants were joined by representatives of contractors who helped build the stadium or manufacture some of its materials.

Sports authority officials have not determined whether the seepage is caused by a design flaw, a construction problem, a defect with building materials, poor maintenance or a combination of factors.

"Nobody wants to rush to judgment," Casey said.

Manteiga said such damage seems premature, since the stadium is only about 8 years old.

Casey said the stadium employs a full-time staff devoted to checking for leaks and fixing them. That staff includes a full-time caulker, who constantly inspects seals between the many joints in the stadium's pre-cast concrete parts. Florida's rainy climate requires extra attention to leaks, she said.

Determining the cause could take months, and authority officials say that is not a pressing concern.

After the repairs are made, the authority will try to figure out why it happened and whether it's possible to recoup the cost of repairs.

"It's premature," said sports authority attorney Van Voris. "Our first priority obviously is to get the repair done because we can't have an event at the stadium until the repair is done."

--Bill Varian can be reached at or 813 226-3387.

[Last modified July 1, 2005, 09:43:27]

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