From the first reports that concerns over structural integrity at Alltel Arena had forced cancellation of Tuesday night's Lakers-Wizards NBA matchup, questions in Little Rock centered on who knew what — and when.
Here's how long it took for the news to reach key officials and how plans to debut Little Rock's premier sports/entertainment complex finally unraveled:
Sept. 23 — The Times of North Little Rock reports discovery of a crack 4 inches long and 1/8 of an inch wide in the cantilever section beneath the front rows in the upper deck at Alltel Arena. In response, engineers tell the Pulaski County Multipurpose Civic Center Facilities Board they've braced the raker beam beneath sections 207 and 208 with metal plates bolted together through the concrete and tested between April 30 and May 3.
Late September — Workers for Vratsinas Construction Co. discover cracks in the raker beam supporting section 209 of the arena about 50 feet away from the first cracked beam. Garver Engineers proposes another jacket of steel plates as a permanent fix. The plan is delayed because it can't be completed by Tuesday's opening. They build two temporary columns to shore up the beam.
Oct. 7 — Arena board members were apprised of the new cracks and assured that an "engineering fix" was at hand.
Oct. 8 — Engineers and contractors inspect and approve the temporary fix. Gus Vratsinas, owner of Vratsinas Construction Co., goes home for the weekend convinced the arena is ready.
Oct. 12, 1:30 p.m. — Bob Russell, chairman of the Arena Board, and Michael Marion of Leisure Management International Inc. first learn of new concerns about the cracks in a meeting with Willard Reese of Garver Engineers and others.
"I had no earthly idea that they had any concern about the structural safety of the arena whatsoever until 1:30," Russell says. "They had called [Tuesday] morning saying they wanted to meet at 1:30. That's when Willard Reese says he and John [Watkins, the structural engineer for Garver] still weren't 100 percent comfortable. They had a game plan to have engineers there to observe. But once we found out there was a concern, there was no way we could let 8,000 people come sit upstairs. So we said, 'We've got to cancel this thing.' Because if the engineers have any concern whatsoever, we can't take the liability of putting people upstairs."
Oct. 12, 4:30 p.m. — Vratsinas learns the game has been canceled as he drives to downtown Little Rock. "I couldn't believe it."
Oct. 12, 5 p.m. — Art Hunkele, senior project manager, learns of the cancellation at the same time Little Rock hears the first reports on the evening news.
"I had a whole lot of emotions [upon hearing of the cancellation], none of them positive, obviously," Hunkele says. "Everything from shock to anger to frustration."
Bill Clark, of CDI Contractors Inc., who has a skybox in the Alltel Arena, hears the news that the game has been canceled and that the cracks had been noted three weeks before. As chief executive of the state's largest construction firm, he's surprised.
"At the [Oct. 2] open house, they had an arena full of people," he says.
Andrew Meadors, whose Little Rock insurance agency had written the two-year builders' risk insurance policy that lapsed when North Little Rock issued a certificate of occupancy, also hears the news.
"My mind started racing about who all this is going to hurt so bad," Meadors says. "Mainly for the taxpayers who were enticed along — 'Hey, this is going to work. Trust us, this will be OK.' Then they bought their tickets like they were supposed to, gave them an 18,000-seat sellout like no one dreamed could happen and then they were turned away. I don't blame the taxpayers for being furious."
Oct. 12, 5:05 p.m. — Keith Jones, executive director and general manager of the Central Arkansas Transit Authority, receives a message from LMI offices asking he attend an emergency meeting at the arena. CAT provides free shuttle service to arena-goers.
Jones says that by the time he arrived at the arena, the meeting hadn't taken place and the crowd had just learned the problem. Officials began distributing fliers.
"It was like seeing somebody who lost their family in a car crash. They were just in shock, and I really felt for them."
Oct. 12, 5:15 p.m. — Ray Nabholz, owner of Nabholz Building and Management Co. in Greenbrier, hears of the cancellation on the radio.
"My initial reaction was that I knew it couldn't have been one of my beams," says Nabholz, whose firm did four of the beams before it was fired in 1998. The beam under 209 was built by Baker Concrete Co.
Oct. 12, 5:30 p.m. — CAT's Jones returns to his office to tell workers to begin pulling street signs showing the shuttle route. Workers alert riders at shuttle stops. No bus ever rolls. He tallies his losses at $400 in guaranteed driver pay.
"It's not a big deal, although being a public agency, it's probably going to be my duty to go ahead and bill them for that," he says.
Oct. 12, 11 p.m. — Vratsinas and engineers develop a novel approach to load test the upper deck with 15,000 bottles of spring water lowered by a crane into the seats and aisles.
Oct. 13 — Garver Engineers hires outside consulting firms from Houston and Little Rock to help analyze potential problems in other raker beams. Workers begin filling seats with the 42-pound bottles of water.
Oct. 14 — Equipment arrives to X-ray the concrete in every raker beam for placement of reinforcing steel known as rebar. Engineers make plans to analyze all 24 beams supporting the 8,000 seats in the upper deck.