ST. PETERSBURG — No matter how fleeting, there are few sights as awesome as the implosion of a big building disappearing in an enormous cloud of dust.
Sorry, YouTube fans, but that won't be the fate of an 11-story former hotel slated for demolition in downtown St. Petersburg. Yet there will still be a lot more noise and vibration as contractors continue clearing an entire city block to make way for redevelopment.
Sometime in October, after everything else has been demolished, a big crane with a 6,500-pound wrecking ball will be maneuvered onto the 400 block of Central Avenue. Over the next few weeks, the ball will be repeatedly dropped onto the vacant hotel, smashing it to pieces.
"We usually pick it up about 6 feet from a target, but there will be times when the ball goes all the way to the ground," said Jeff Meigs, a vice president of Tampa-based Kimmins Contracting. "You'll hear and feel it, but it won't be like an earthquake."
Kimmins has used implosion on other projects, including the demolitions of Launch Pad 13 at Cape Canaveral and the Father Baker Bridge in Buffalo, N.Y. But implosions tend to be done for what Meigs calls "impact" — the visual kind, as in all those spectacular videos of Vegas casinos vanishing in seconds.
"In demolition, implosion is usually the last choice," Meigs said. "It takes tremendous engineering and planning, and then you have to prep the building. And when you implode, you still have to load out all the debris, so we use the old, traditional methods where you're demolishing and loading out at the same time. It's usually faster to do it that way."
While existing structures are being knocked down all over the Tampa Bay area to make way for new homes and businesses, few if any current demolition projects are as extensive as the one on Central Avenue.
As downtown St. Petersburg sprang back to life, the block remained a dead zone with its crumbling parking garage and three long-vacant buildings, one shrouded in aluminium grillwork that made it look like a giant cheese grater. After an ownership dispute was settled last year, a New York group contracted to buy the entire block and has tentative plans for a mixed-use tower.
So far, crews using a hydraulic excavator have knocked down most of the garage. When finished breaking up the slab, they will move on to a low-rise building and then the six-story "cheese grater."
"We are working west to east on First Avenue S, then we'll turn north and go up Fourth (Street) and then come into the 11-story," Meigs said. "It's like a mini horseshoe, the direction we're going."
Demolition of the six-floor building is expected to start in mid September and should take about three weeks. Then, Meigs said, "We do the crown of the project" — the high-rise former hotel.
While the lattice crane with wrecking ball pulverizes the hotel, one lane each on Central and Fourth streets will be closed for about two weeks.
Meigs declined to say what the entire, monthslong project is costing. The work should be completed by Thanksgiving, leaving — at least temporarily — a big vacant lot and numerous trees.
Contact Susan Taylor Martin at email@example.com or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate.