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City hypes Civic Center 'implosion'

Demo expert says Raleigh wanted buzz


All this talk of "implosion" has delivered me on 6:30 Sunday morning, fresh out of the hospital, up two ladders and on top of a downtown roof. It is 23 degrees. The implosion of the universally hated Civic Center had better be good. I'm a big fan of controlled demolition and a devotee of legendary Controlled Demolition Inc. and its president, equally legendary Mark Loizeaux.

At 7:05 a.m., the happy-news choppers hover poised for the end of a commercial break. There is a police siren and then the distinctive boomp boomp boomp boomp of detonating explosives placed in points in the four columns holding up the space-frame roof system.

The thing issues a bit of dust but just stands there. The architect standing next to me glances my way, questioning eyebrows up. After a long wait, the roof finally begins to sag, groan and move. It was not an "implosion" by any stretch of the definition. The roof partially collapses, leaving half up in the sky.

This has to be some sort of failure. The point of a CDI "implosion" is to use the mass and acceleration of the upper part of a building to fall and destroy everything beneath it. This has not happened. Maybe the universally hated structure that had hosted tens of thousands of Raleighites' cotillions and graduations had resisted the final fate, saying in essence, Hey y'all, watch this—payback for all the ill-feeling heaped on the Tinker Toy monstrosity since it was installed 28 years ago, blocking the sight-lines between the capitol and Memorial Auditorium. Now, we're making way for another convention center. (See Citizen).

We go downstairs and turn on the TV. Mark Loizeaux and a happy-news chick are repeating that everything had gone perfectly. The architect and I stare at each other in disbelief.

At breakfast at Finch's, I ask my 9-year-old nephew what he thought.

"It wasn't right. It didn't fall." I am proud of the lad. He viewed the event and came up with a reasonable analysis based on observation and common sense. But it isn't enough. I need to talk to someone who really knew the actual job.

Monday, an e-mail gets me a return phone call from Mark Loizeaux himself. Not only did his family revolutionize demolitions by mastering the use of explosives, his mother coined the word "implosion." They've brought down thousands of buildings around the world, from the remains of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City to the spacey Landmark Hotel in Las Vegas.

"P and J Demolition was the main demo contractor," says Loizeaux. "Their equipment was not high enough to reach the top of this structure. We were hired to drop this thing about 20 feet.

"This [roof] was supported on four super-columns," Loizeaux explains. "P and J Demolition was afraid that if they undermined one section of it—well, you know the old saying: If you're close enough to touch the structure with a crane, you're close enough for it to touch you. All they asked us to do was knock 20, 24 feet. All we did was blast the four concrete stairwells that held up the four corners—114 feet of the concrete stairwells. All we were doing was dropping this down so P and J contracting can reach it with their equipment. It was like a nothing little job. We loaded like 30 pounds of explosives. We created columns out of the stairwell walls, put 30 pound of explosives and dropped it 20 feet."

"What kind of explosives?" I ask.

"Pentaerythritol Tetranitrate, PETN."

"Oh, like Det-Cord."

"Yes, that's what it was, Det-Cord."

"OK, I understand the local press were suffering from the P.T. Barnum effect."

"Yeah, there you go. Actually it wasn't the local press, it was the city. It's their project and apparently it's running behind schedule and kinda lackluster, so they wanted to do something to juice it up."

"Fascinating—so they were trying to create some sort of buzz on the street."

"There you go. That's what they paid for, that's what they got."

The N&O sort of caught on and warned people Saturday that "It won't be much of a show Sunday when the Raleigh Convention Center's roof is imploded" and told folks just to watch it on TV.

I hung up and just laughed; how totally pathetic and pure Raleigh. Who you gonna believe, me or your lyin' eyes—the fiction most clearly unseated by a 9-year-old?

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