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  1. Real Estate

Office building demolition at Midtown Tampa site proves tougher than expected

Published Jun. 25, 2018

TAMPA — Stripped to the girders, the old Bromley office building looked about as substantial as fish bones on a dinner plate.

But the 5-story structure proved Sunday it still had a surprising amount of fight left in it.

A demolition team had planned to weaken the structure by making strategic cuts in its steel support beams, then use four powerful excavators to pull it over with steel cables. The demolition started on schedule, at 10 a.m., and the building was expected to collapse, house of cards style, by 10:01 a.m.

Instead, the job still wasn't done at 8 p.m.

It wasn't for lack of trying. The excavators repeatedly teamed up like wild dogs trying to bring down a water buffalo. Their tank-like treads spun and churned up first pavement and then dug deeper furrows in an old parking lot. The building rocked back and forth slightly — think of trying to roll a car out of mud or push over a vending machine — but the harmonic motion never reached a tipping point.

Instead, the heavy excavators themselves were often tipped forward a bit by the building's mass and inertia, and eventually three of four cables snapped.

"Tired old building that just doesn't want to give up," said Bill Martin, a veteran construction executive who was not working on the project but came out to watch. "This just shows how good they built them back in the '70s."

Along the way, workers tried to deepen or make additional strategic cuts in the building's support beams. They discovered that the previous cuts did not necessarily weaken the structure as much as expected. Blow torches cut steel but also melt steel, so some of the cuts essentially rewelded themselves, not as strong as an intact beam, but enough to make demolition harder.

Teams from Barr & Barr, the general contractor, and Cross Environmental Services, the demolition contractor, consulted with engineers, planned to order more cables and make some cuts in the building's lateral support beams to further weaken the structure, before having the excavators go at it again, to no more effect than in the morning. Work was called off as a thunderstorm rolled in and is expected to start again Monday morning.

"This is Murphy's Law in construction," said Fred Hames, Barr & Barr's executive vice president and director of Southeast operations. "We'll get it. We've just got to keep everybody safe."

A similar process had been used nearby on an old building at what is now the Walter's Crossing shopping center, and the method, known as tripping the building, is not unusual for a structure of the size of the Bromley building, Hames said.

Once demolished, the old office building is expected to produce about 24,000 pounds of concrete to be crushed and re-used at the site of the $500 million Midtown Tampa project on 22 acres near the southeastern corner of Interstate 275 and N Dale Mabry Highway.

The Bromley Companies, based in New York City, plan to start construction in early 2019 on what will become 1.8 million square feet of construction, including:

• A 390-unit Crescent Communities apartment complex.

• A 48,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market expected to open in the fall of 2020.

• 750,000 square feet of Class A office space, plus two boutique hotels and more than 200,000 square feet of retail, restaurants, entertainment, fitness and outdoor activities.

But on Sunday, the demolition attracted Juanita Craft, 24, who took classes there to become a medical assistant when Sanford-Brown College occupied the building.

"I was driving by the other day, and I saw it and I said, 'Wait. What?' " she said. "I didn't know anything was going on with it. It's very weird to see it now."

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Contact >Richard Danielson

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