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Skyscraper: Last Stadium Beam Lifted into Place


New Meadowlands Stadium Topping-Out Ceremony 3/09

Any major project speeds by different mile markers on the way to its grand opening. There are contract signings, groundbreakings, cornerstone layings.

The New Meadowlands Stadium passed another one of those markers with the slow, majestic raising of the final steel I-beam into its place along the western rim of the structure during topping-off ceremonies this morning.

"This is a very, very important day, something we've been working on," said Jets chairman and CEO Woody Johnson, who you could say was beaming at the ceremony before members of the Jets and Giants, representatives from the New Meadowlands Stadium Company and N.J. Sports and Exposition Authority, Skanska construction workers and reporters.

"Even Mr. Hess [Leon Hess, the Jets' late owner] wanted to move into a new stadium like this. He dreamed about that when he moved here to begin with. I've been working on this 10 years with a team of people. Finally we put the last piece of steel up. Fourteen thousand pieces later, and it couldn't be a better thing for the New York Jets, the New York market and our fans."

Maneuvering and securing the final beam sounds like real progress, and it is — the stadium construction is four months ahead of schedule, not to mention on budget. But today's milestone is only that, with the final destination of the September 2010 opening shimmering down the highway.

Greg Murphy, managing director of Skanska who three decades earlier suited up for the Jets — the defensive lineman from Brooklyn and Penn State was a 12th-round pick of the Steelers in 1975 and was in the Jets' '77 training camp — summed up the project.

"This is a big day. It was a lot of work, but we got it done, we got it topped off," Murphy said. "But we've still got another year to go."

Yet the Jets' new stadium, less than a football field away from the walls of the current Meadowlands stadium, is clearly shaping up. The seats in three shades of gray have been installed around three-quarters of the upper tier, and one of the four massive scoreboards is in place in the northeast corner.

"This will be home for both teams and all our fans," Johnson said. "It'll be an improvement on the old stadium in every way. It'll be a destination for us and a lot of different events in the years to come. It will be the jewel of the NFL."

While crews worked up and down the stadium's outside louvering and around the grounds, the work inside made way for the ceremony. Until shortly after 11 a.m., members of the teams, dignitaries and construction workers signed a large football-shaped board attached to the beam and its lights and walkway. (Johnson's message, signed in green on one of the football's middle white laces, read "Woody, Go Jets!")

For the ceremony, many guests stepped from the stadium's current floor of crushed rock and mud into the two bleacher sections set up around the 50-yard line and listened to remarks from Johnson, Giants co-owner Steve Tisch, Skanska project executive Frank Falciani and Sports Authority chairman Carl Goldberg.

"We're honoring almost 2000 hard-working, highly skilled men and women who've worked on this building," said Mark Lamping, New Meadowlands Stadium CEO, "and helping the owners of the Jets and Giants to give the fans the best viewing experience possible."

Then came time for the main event. The Star-Spangled Banner opened with a drum flourish as a crane gently hoisted the beam and workers unfurled an American flag flanked by Jets and Giants banners. The beam rose higher and higher, toward five ironworkers on the top of the structure waiting for their delivery — two of the workers even got exclusive cameraphone angles on the approaching beam.

On the ground, Johnson was talking with reporters. He was asked about the Jets' seat sales and said they were coming along "great." Executive vice president Thad Sheely also said:

"We are pleased with how well the club seat sales are going. Even in this tough economy, this is a great product and the availability of the 15-year payment plan has helped, too."

When the steel had been secured and the five stood atop it as if they were on a modified Olympics medal stand, Johnson broke off his remarks to advise those with cameras: "Get that shot up there."

It was indeed inspirational, but it's just one of the first of many great shots still to come at the new stadium rising skyward in the Meadowlands.

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