Canopy's installation brings arts-center milestone

Arts and CultureArtAmwayFlorida Citrus BowlBuddy Dyer

Crews this weekend will hoist a massive steel support into place on the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, marking a major milestone in the center's three-year construction.

The 186,000-pound truss, the first of a dozen to be installed on the building, will eventually support a sprawling outdoor canopy that is perhaps the center's most architecturally striking feature.

The placement of the first truss is something managers have been looking forward to since construction began in June 2011.

"This has been in the works for about 16 months. It's a big deal, absolutely," said Clint Jackson of PCL Construction Services, the company leading development of the center.

It took three months for welders to assemble the first few trusses on the Orange Avenue construction site, across the street from City Hall. A special crane has been brought in to lift and hold each one while it is welded in place several stories above the ground.

The first one is going on the south side of the building, where it will overhang Anderson Street. The street will be closed between Orange and Rosalind avenues from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, and the westbound lane will remain closed until 6 p.m. Sunday.

The trusses are so heavy — just one weighs as much as three garbage trucks — that their installation must be carefully choreographed. Rather than work their way across one by one, the second truss will go on the opposite side of the building to balance out the weight.

Ultimately, the web of steel will hold up a cantilevered awning as wide as a city block. It is meant to partially cover an outdoor-festival plaza facing Orange Avenue.

The arts center was approved in 2007 as part of a package that included the Amway Center arena and the renovation of the Florida Citrus Bowl stadium. The arena was completed, but the arts center was delayed when the recession caused a steep drop in the tourist-tax collections needed to finance its construction.

The project was split into two phases, and construction began last year. The first includes two of three planned performance halls: a 2,700-seat theater for large-scale productions, and a 300-seat hall that would accommodate small theater, music and dance companies.

The first phase totals $201.6 million, not including an additional $72 million from private donations for the land and design of both phases. Arts boosters still are raising an additional $75 million for the final phase, a 1,700-seat multiform theater for symphony, ballet and opera.

In the meantime, project leaders say construction has gone smoothly and is on target to be completed on time in April 2014. The construction period is longer than the two years it took to build the Amway Center because of its more complex design.

"There was an awful lot of work to get it out of the ground to start with, and to see it really taking shape is just amazing and gratifying," said former pest-control magnate Chuck Steinmetz, a major donor and member of the center's executive board. "This is going to be such a spectacular building."

About 235 laborers and tradesmen are on the job site now. Since construction started, 113 people have been hired through the city's Blueprint employment office, which was established to find jobs for locals and minorities.

Mayor Buddy Dyer praised the project's economic impact and help for the local work force. One subcontractor — LPR Construction Co., which is erecting the project's structural steel — hired local workers and flew them to its headquarters in Loveland, Colo., for training.

"They'll work on this job, but now they'll have the skills to work somewhere else," Dyer said.

The canopy trusses should give downtown workers and visitors an idea of the arts center's design.

"It's certainly going to change the appearance," Dyer said. "You're going to get a better feel for what the building is actually going to look like."

mschlueb@tribune.com or 407-420-5417

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