TAMPA — Heavy lifting began Monday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum for the Aug. 27-30 Republican National Convention.
Nearly 30 stagehands hoisted trusses that will support more than 200,000 pounds of theatrical lighting, speakers and cables.
At least three of the workers, called "super riggers," are specially trained so they can dangle 130 feet in midair to attach cables to hard-to-reach secure spaces on the Times Forum's ceiling.
"The super riggers will go off the beam and truly suspend themselves," said Phil Alongi, the convention's executive producer. "They're a lot like mountain climbers."
It's the second week of a $20 million prep job that is scheduled to take six weeks. Last week, about 3,000 seats were removed and stored. The foundation for the stage on which Mitt Romney will accept the Republican presidential nomination was built. The center stand where TV cameramen and photographers will be is under construction. The seating section for reporters was also built on both sides of the main stage.
"I'm not aware of any problems," said Mike Miller, the RNC's chief operating officer. "It's gone very well."
One thing that helped is Miller got the six-week construction time he requested from the Times Forum.
He said during the 1992 Republican Convention, the Houston Astrodome gave him a shorter time period.
"We worked three shifts for a couple of weeks," Miller said. "We had to use overtime. You can get the work done, but it's more expensive."
The work has been so unrushed that crews have been on regular 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. shifts, said Greg Lane, national project director for Freeman, the RNC's general contractor.
Miller and Alongi stressed to a throng of reporters how important the rigging was to getting the Times Forum ready for the convention.
Trusses, long metal grids that can hold heavy equipment, were already assembled by Monday morning, later to be hoisted up by chains powered by motors.
About two-dozen riggers then affixed the trusses to the Times Forum ceiling. These riggers are certified to do the work while standing on a catwalk or beam.
But three "super riggers" hired by the RNC are certified to go "off beam" and affix cables to the ceiling that can't be reached from the catwalk. The trick: hang the cables on secure spots that won't damage acoustical improvements recently made to the Times Forum.
Alongi said the RNC hired the super riggers from a Torrance, Calif., firm called Rope Access Technology.
"It's dangerous work if you're not experienced and you're not the person to do it," said Alongi. "We made certain that we hired the best people."