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Best of Benjamin Spillman
Benjamin Spillman

Lights out for Strip icon

13 March 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada – Mark Loizeaux was on the ground floor of the Stardust just hours before it was scheduled to become 28,000 tons of dusty rubble early today, but he wasn't worried about the 428 pounds of explosives jammed into the building's columns.

He was, however, keeping a wary eye on nearly two miles of bright yellow detonating cord strung through the 32-story hotel tower, which opened in 1991.

"It is basically explosive clothesline," said Loizeaux of the cord used to carry an electric pulse to explosives stuffed into 882 holes on the ground and floors three, seven, 13 and 22. More explosives are in 339 holes bored into a nine-story tower built in 1964.

The cord carries energy at a rate of 21,500 feet per second and is sensitive enough to be triggered by someone stepping on it, Loizeaux said.

That's why he kept close tabs on the 24 people -- a total of 48 feet -- he escorted into the stripped and gutted hotel structure Monday morning.

"If you step on something that goes off, the whole building comes down," Loizeaux, president of Controlled Demolition Inc. of Phoenix, Md., said.

It wasn't the only delicate maneuvering at the Stardust since the 49-year-old resort closed Nov. 1.

The 27 structures, parking lots and common spaces on the 63-acre Stardust site have been experiencing a flurry of activity in the four months since the closure and even before.

Boyd Gaming Corp., the company that has owned the Stardust since 1985, has been preparing for the shutdown, implosion and cleanup since January 2006, Boyd spokesman Rob Stillwell said.

"Just moving toward preparing the site for demolition was an extraordinary effort," Stillwell said.

Before the physical preparations began, the company worked to move as many as possible of the 1,800 people who worked at the Stardust. About 900 workers were members of Culinary Local 226 and were eligible to seek new jobs through the union, he said.

About a third of the work force relocated to similar jobs in the company, and about 100 retired or changed careers, Stillwell said.

"There is a lot of emotion involved," he said.

The announcement of the closure and pending implosion tapped into nearly 50 years of memories of former customers.

Stillwell said that as the implosion date neared, he spoke with as many as 10 people per week who had weddings or honeymoons at the Stardust, who remembered the casino as the site of their first visit to Las Vegas and who wanted to learn the fate of employees they had befriended over the years.

"A lot of people are connected to the Stardust," he said.

Beyond the mental preparation was the work to get the structures ready for implosion. LVI Services of New York City began working on the demolition project in December.

Workers removed more than 100,000 square feet of asbestos, terminated utilities on the property, and removed pipes, wires, carpet, glass and the purple Stardust sign atop the largest tower.

Workers removed non-load-bearing walls and prepared some load-bearing parts of the structure to ensure it would fall the way planners intended.

"It has been notched, literally, like a tree," Loizeaux said.

On Thursday, the explosives arrived at the site and were tested.

A crew then went about stuffing them into holes bored in the columns, then capping the holes with bags of sand.

Floors with explosives were wrapped with chain-link fencing and a special fabric to contain debris, Loizeaux said.

The explosives were placed and charges timed to ensure the building topples into itself.

In addition to timing the explosives, demolition workers had to coordinate the implosion with workers for Fireworks by Grucci, a Long Island, N.Y.-based pyrotechnics company that is choreographing a display to complement the implosion.

"We're creating that color and a little bit of that show pizzazz," said Phil Grucci, executive vice president of the company.

The display will represent about half of what is used during New Year's Eve on the Strip, Grucci said.

The work isn't over when the towers fall.

About 60 workers were assigned to clean up dust from the implosion.

Each floor of the larger structure will result in about 2 feet of debris. By the time the entire site is clear, about 170,000 tons of debris will have been removed.

Only then will the former Stardust site be ready for Echelon, the $4.4 billion resort scheduled for opening in 2010.

"I'm ready for Echelon," Stillwell said. "This has been a very long goodbye."