The first part of Tampa Bay Center to come down was the aluminum facade above the old Burdines location
The yard-wide aluminum strips peeled away like bacon curling up in a frying pan, revealing red steel girders, banks of insulation and long strips of concrete. The flat gray façade that used to welcome shoppers into Burdines at the Tampa Bay Center was coming down violently against the force of a mighty 330B CAT Excavator.
In the cab of that 38-ton piece of machinery was Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach Jon Gruden.
Because the façade was long and narrow, and seemingly segmented into yards, the football symbolism was strong for Gruden. To him, it was like tearing away at the lingering frustration from an unsuccessful 2004 season.
To the franchise, however, the symbolism was even deeper; this was the first step towards a new era in Buccaneer history. Two years after winning its first Super Bowl while working out of an outdated headquarters, the team is on the verge of moving into a state-of-the-art facility, one that will aid greatly in the pursuit of more Lombardi Trophies.
Of course, Gruden could see that meaning as well. Hired in 2002, he had been around One Buccaneer Place, off and on, for more than 20 years; his father, Jim Gruden, was a former coach and scout with the team. He may affectionately refer to the Bucs' current digs as "The Woodshed," but he knows it is time to move on.
"This is huge. If you've been to One Buccaneer Place you know that it doesn't have a lot of things that a lot of the other facilities have. You don't have to have a great facility to win a Super Bowl; we were able to do that out of One Buc Place. But the classrooms will be so much better; the practice fields will be so much better; the training table, so much better; the locker room area; even the media area. It's just going to be a 100 percent upgrade in every aspect of professional football. That's something that we need, it's something that we're excited about and it certainly pushes us in a very positive direction."
Gruden also knows that the end product will be nothing short of spectacular. When Raymond James Stadium debuted in 1998, it was called the "Crown Jewel of the NFL." There is no doubt that team ownership, the Glazer family, will work to produce a similarly elite training facility.
"[The new facility] is a big part of our future," said Gruden. "It's been in the works for some time. Once again, the future of our organization was heavily impacted today with the beginning of this facility. We're very excited about it, very appreciative about the mastermind that the Glazers have in mind for this facility. It will be the best in football."
The Burdines façade was the first portion of the expansive mall to feel the bite of the demolition equipment. It is located on the far eastern side of the mall, where construction of the new facility will begin. A half-mile to the right stands Raymond James Stadium; obviously, the Bucs, who have spent the last 29 years on the edge of a Tampa International Airport runway, have found an ideal spot for their now home.
"The Glazers made a commitment that they wanted a world-class facility and we think we have the perfect location and the perfect designs for one," said General Manager Bruce Allen. "I'm looking forward to going to [the NFL Scouting Combine in] Indianapolis today and telling all the college kids that they might never see One Buc Place and that they'll get to be here at our new facility."
Gruden climbed into the excavator's cab a few minutes after 8:30 and began taking immediate instructions on the CAT's controls from a group of four Bierlein demolition company workers. He worked the machine's huge arm, hoisting its digging bucket up and down and eventually getting it in position to tear into the façade. At 9:00, he pushed the bucket forward and tore into the aluminum in one long, downward swipe. For a moment, the front half of the excavator's massive treads rose up off the ground.
Thrilled by the experience, and with his three sons standing nearby in child-sized hard hats, Gruden raised the arm and tore into the façade two more times. His third swing connected particularly well, ripping down a huge portion of the aluminum front and tearing into the support rods behind it.
"That was very exciting…very exciting," he said after jumping down from the cab and signing footballs for all the Bierlein men on hand. "I'm not very good at that. I was pretty nervous honestly. We've been anticipating this for a long time, but I didn't know I was going to tear down a mall. To have it actually beginning is something we're very, very excited about."
Allen might also mention the new facility to prospective free agents when the open market period begins next week. The Bucs have attracted their share of free agents with the team's many virtues over the past few years, but a gleaming new headquarters can only help.
"There's no question [it can help]," Gruden agreed. "It's not going to be the ultimate factor in where a guy goes. Players want to go where they have a chance to win and obviously where they're comfortable with the contract. I think players know that if they come here they're going to have an opportunity to win and they're going to be treated great. Certainly, sitting in a nice, custom-made theater here in this new facility will help."
Once in the hands of the demolition professionals, the Burdines façade, about a 1.5 football fields long, will come down in about an hour. The concrete structure underneath will take longer, with another heavy-duty piece of machinery chopping it up then pulling it out. The whole of the mall will be a sizable project. Still, the prospect of a new facility moved quite a bit closer to reality on Wednesday morning.
"I think this is an exciting direction [for the Buccaneers]," said Allen. "I don't think there's any doubt that we're going to build a beautiful trophy here for the Tampa Bay community that's going to be a monument to what the team achieves in the future."