Orlando stadium rendering, south view - Orlando City SC
Courtesy of Orlando City SC

Orlando City's new stadium soon to take shape as massive underground drainage system nears completion

ORLANDO, Fla. – Scott Neal has some good news for Orlando City SC fans hoping to see real progress on their new stadium: It’s about to go vertical.

The other positive aspect of the current construction process, which has now been under way in real terms for around six months, is that Neal – the venue's general manager – expects things to start taking shape rapidly once they begin the above-ground structures.

Neal and City CEO Alex Leitao toured the site last week, and it is notable how extensive and complex the whole construction process is. While little can be seen from the surrounding streets, the below-ground work is fast being completed, hence passers-by can expect to see much more happening next month and into February.

“People will be able to see progress on a daily basis once we go vertical,” Scott told MLSsoccer.com. “The really complex part has been in all the underground construction, but we have made good headway with that and will be ready for the next phase shortly.”

The need to embed huge storm drain vaults up to 34 feet below ground has been the slow, laborious part of the process. From above the excavations, it is clear how major a task has been undertaken, thanks to Florida’s notoriously high water table.

With the field actually being 10 feet below ground level to create an amphitheater effect, a serious drainage system was necessary, with the whole structure able to process a massive five inches of water an hour. This is far in excess of the typical peak rainfall in the area, but the stadium needs to be able to cope with both the runoff and the ground water at the most extreme levels.

The massive concrete drains come in several dozen sections weighing almost 40,000 pounds each. The first level has been laid, but they need to be properly stacked and connected, hence the need for a specialist crane that can handle the weight. That, in turn, required a temporary tarmac base to be installed.

“Being in Florida definitely has its drawbacks from the subterranean construction stage,” Neal added. “But we are also blessed with good weather, which means we can make good progress year-round, which wouldn’t be the case in many other states.

“It will also be very impressive when it is completed, as it will be a unique stadium by MLS standards with the four stands and the roofs that will cover them. I’ve already seen how passionate Orlando fans are, and I’m looking forward to seeing them in here.”

Standing at the point where the center circle will eventually sit – at the former junction of Pine Street and Parramore Avenue, where part of the road drainage can still be seen – Scott pointed to the venue's four separate stands. The northern stand will feature a standing-room area for supporters groups The Ruckus and Iron Lion Firm, who form “The Wall” behind one goal on match days.

The players will emerge from a tunnel in the southwest section of the stadium, and there will be a special vehicular access to field level from a media compound in the northwest corner. This is clearly taking shape, and once finished next month, it will enable the full excavation of the site before steel construction begins on all sides. An amazing 750,000 pounds of concrete will form the foundations when fully complete.

Neal has been on site almost three months after being hired to oversee stadium management in September. He previously worked on the construction and oversight of Baylor University’s new 45,000-seat college football venue, McLane Stadium, as well as being general manager at the Rabobank Arena in Bakersfield, California.

He has already traveled to visit several other MLS stadiums, notably Kansas City and Houston, and is fast getting to grips with a life in purple.

“This isn’t quite as big as the Baylor stadium and is quite compact at 10.5 acres, but the general process is very similar,” he said. “The Icon Venue Group, who are the construction management company, have already done several MLS stadiums, so they are real professionals in their field.”

Lions CEO Leitao was taking his first full site inspection in more than a month, and was encouraged by what he saw on a pleasant Florida morning.

“It is great to see everything in its proper context now,” he said. “I was involved with some of the stadium concept work for the Brazil World Cup, but nothing quite like this. It is definitely exciting for me and hopefully the fans will be just as excited.”

The next major milestone will come in January when the upper-level construction will begin in earnest. Completion is still scheduled for fall 2016, towards the end of next season.

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