TAMPA — Two majestic white arches that will be a gateway of sorts for downtown Dallas are being pieced together, 50 feet at a time, at a steel plant here in East Tampa.
Eventually, these two arches, designed by noted Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, will tower nearly 300 feet over Dallas' Trinity River and give the city some futuristic flair. Calatrava is the same architect who designed Florida Polytechnic University's eye-popping new Innovation, Science and Technology building in Polk County.
The arches that are accompanying the new Margaret McDermott Bridge in Dallas have given a $40 million shot in the arm to Tampa Steel Erecting Co. and will allow it to hire at least 25 people next year. It employs about 80 people today, all of them tied up on the arches contract.
“The whole shop's dedicated to this project,” said Tampa Steel Erecting Vice President Jeffrey Ames.
Tampa Steel is a 68-year-old steel fabrication company that has pieced together bridges nationwide and some of central Florida's most iconic structures. It built Epcot Center's geodesic dome Spaceship Earth and also worked on The Florida Aquarium in Tampa, among other projects.
Its president, Bob Clark Jr., is one of Tampa's more colorful business leaders. He wears a short handlebar mustache, has been known to pepper his language with four-letter words and gleefully passes out business cards saying he has plotted assassinations, tamed tigers and organized orgies.
He also organizes a networking luncheon every Friday at Ybor City's Columbia Restaurant, seating a rotating mix of 15 Tampa businesspeople boy-girl, boy-girl.
The Margaret McDermott Bridge promises to keep Clark's company busy at least into 2015. It's part of an ambitious $800 million project by the Texas Department of Transportation to expand and beautify the bridges over Interstates 30 and 35E and improve the connection between the two interstates, known as the “mixmaster.”
Tampa Steel Erecting won a $40 million contract to construct the project's most striking features — two new bicycle and pedestrian walkways that will run along each side of the Interstate 30 bridge, known in Dallas as the Margaret McDermott Bridge.
The company is building twin steel arches that will rise 286 feet over the pedestrian-bike walkways, holding them up with cables in a suspension system.
All told, the arches and pedestrian walkway will run about one-fifth of a mile.
That means a massive amount of steel.
For each of the twin arches, welders are fashioning together 39 separate sections made of half-inch or three-quarter-inch steel plates. Each arch section is 40 to 60 feet long and about 15 feet wide.
Using a superstrength drill, they drill holes in the steel plates so workers can bolt together the plates. Final assembly will be done in Dallas, of course, since it would be tough to store and transport an 1,125-foot pedestrian walkway and accompanying arches.
The final step in Tampa will be applying a fresh coat of white paint to give the arches a nice gleam.
Moving the arches to Dallas will require at least 78 separate truck trips — or one long haul for each of the 39 separate sections, multiplied by two.
So far, Tampa Steel Erecting is about a quarter finished with what should be a 2½-year project. Clark and Ames said they expect to hire at least 25 people next year in positions including welder, painter, sandblaster and fitter.
“We just hired five more welders, and we could use more,” Ames said.