Saturday, December 28, 2002

Stadium builder must say goodbye

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Ty Heinmiller is senior construction supervisor with Hunt Construction.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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Nothing lasts forever. Everything changes.

That is one thing Ty Heinmiller has learned in his five decades in the construction business; that is why the project executive for Hunt Construction Group will feel a tinge of sadness mixed with resignation when Cinergy Field, the stadium he helped build more than 30 years ago, comes tumbling down Sunday morning.

"I'm not sure what I'm going to think when that place goes down," said Mr. Heinmiller.

"I guess it was bound to happen sooner or later."

What might make him feel better about seeing his handiwork implode is the fact that when the dust clears, Great American Ball Park will be left standing. As the chief supervising executive for construction of the Reds' new $280 million ballpark, he will see a new monument born as another one dies.

Of all the hundreds of workers who have had a hand in the Great American Ball Park project, he is the only one who has worked on the new ballpark and the construction of what was known as Riverfront Stadium 32 years ago.

These days, he spends his days under a hard hat on the Great American site, supervising work crews and making sure deadlines for various aspects of the project are met.

One morning this week, at the Vine Street office of Hunt Construction Group, he sat in a conference room signing a stack of work orders, the wall above him covered with ballpark blueprints and a clock that constantly ticked off the days, hours, minutes and seconds until Hunt's "substantial completion" deadline of Feb. 1.

He said that he was living in Columbus in early 1970 when Hunt Construction called him in to supervise a crew putting the final touches on Riverfront Stadium.

Mr. Heinmiller supervised the laying of the first Astroturf playing surface, worked on finishing the Reds and visitors' clubhouses, helped finish the press box and adjust the lighting.

"We were rushing to get it all done," Mr. Heinmiller said. "We worked around the clock."

The Reds were planning to abandon Crosley Field in the West End and move into the new circular stadium - one that they would share with the Bengals for the next 30 years - by June 30.

The stadium was ready for use that day; and a capacity crowd saw the Reds drop their first game in Riverfront Stadium 8-2.

But the stadium really wasn't complete - some concession areas were not done and a strike in the ceramic tile industry meant that many of the restrooms weren't completed.

"It was just something we couldn't avoid because we couldn't get a lot of the materials we needed," said Mr. Heinmiller. "But the fan at the first game didn't care about that. All he knew was he had to stand in line for a long time to get his beer."

Mr. Heinmiller was at the ballpark for the first game and two weeks later when President Richard Nixon threw out the ceremonial first pitch at the All-Star Game.

"We thought we were all done by the time the All-Star Game came around, and then the president decides to come, so we had the Secret Service giving us instructions to build partitions," Mr. Heinmiller said. "That first season, we were a work in progress."

After the Riverfront Stadium work was completed, Mr. Heinmiller stayed in Cincinnati and raised a family of three children and nine grandchildren.

Over the years, he said, he has seen about 200 to 300 baseball games in the place he helped build.

He also worked on countless other projects, including construction of Procter & Gamble's twin towers downtown. He was there in 1983 when President Ronald Reagan donned a hard hat and toured the then-unfinished structures.

Now he is building a ballpark to replace the one he helped build 32 years ago, and he knows that someday Great American Ball Park, too, will be outdated.

"You build something like this, and you want it to be used 75 or 100 years at least," Mr. Heinmiller said. "You look at the old ballparks like Crosley Field or Tiger Stadium; they lasted 70 years or more.

"But that's not the way things are today," he said.

"Sometime, 20 or 30 years down the road, they'll have to come back and do some big renovations to Great American, just to keep up with the times and the technology."

When Riverfront Stadium was built, he said, it was "state of the art."

"Everybody wanted multiuse stadiums, and everybody built them," Mr. Heinmiller said. "Atlanta, Pittsburgh, St. Louis. But those days are gone."

Mr. Heinmiller said he plans to see Great American Ball Park through to the completion of the Reds Hall of Fame building, scheduled to open in 2004, and then retire.

"Then, I'll just go to the games and enjoy the ball park," he said, chuckling. "When they start imploding buildings you built, it's probably time to retire."

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