Boardwalk Hall employees went to work the morning of Jan. 7 ready to make an ice hockey rink.
Workers began by picking up 550 pieces of fiberglass floorboards and putting them into storage. A few hours later, after some minor touch-ups, Boardwalk Hall was ready to welcome the American Hockey League’s Albany Devils for a game against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers.
Such is the routine at Boardwalk Hall, a historic venue that has hosted nearly every sporting event imaginable and goes through dozens of transformations each year. Most people, however, never see all the work that goes into it.
“As often as we do it, it’s still a little amazing that it flows as well as it does,” said Boardwalk Hall general manager Greg Tesone, 52, of Egg Harbor Township. “And it’s funny because people don’t realize. They look at their particular event that they’ve come to, but a lot of times they’re not coming to the event the next day.”
The preparation for the AHL game was easier because the ice was already down beneath the floorboards, which serve as insulators, and the glass around the rink was still up from hockey games last month. The floorboards were there to allow maintenance crews to work on the building, which underwent nearly 50 changeovers last year, said Valarie McGonigal, the Hall’s director of marketing.
However, it’s not always this easy. When work crews initially installed the glass and formed the ice over the hall’s concrete surface in late October, they worked nearly around the clock for three days. Operations supervisor Rick Wade married his wife, Kari, that week, and he joked that the job nearly caused a divorce.
“I didn’t get a chance to help her much with any of the final details for the wedding,” said Wade, 29, of Somers Point. “For three days, I was here from about 7 (a.m.) to midnight every night, or a little bit later.”
March is usually the toughest month. Last year, on consecutive weekends in March, the Hall hosted the state High School Wrestling Tournament, the Atlantic 10 Conference men’s college basketball tournament, the ECAC men’s ice hockey tournament, a Van Halen concert and the Atlantic City Boardwalk Rodeo.
“Those were busy stretches for us,” Tesone said.
This March will be a bit different since the A-10 tournament has left for Brooklyn, N.Y., and the rodeo has not been officially scheduled to return.
Still, there will be some busy days at the Hall. The ice will be melted completely for the Atlantic City Indoor midget-car races Feb. 1 and 2. And on consecutive days from Feb. 22 to 24, there will be concerts by The Who and the Philadelphia Mummers String Band, followed by another Devils game.
Wade and operations manager Rodney Faulk oversee a crew of about 10 for most changeovers, with more part-time help called in when necessary. Sometimes they do the whole thing, while other times they supplement the work of an outside contractor, such as the Ohio company that handles the dirt for the rodeo.
Some changeovers take only a few hours, as the Jan. 7 one did. Some, such as the one for the rodeo, take a full day or slightly longer.
Wade said he and his crew don’t dread any one particular changeover.
“Obviously it’s easier when you’ve got more days between changeovers,” Wade said as sweat beaded on his forehead during a break from removing floorboards. “But I think it’s more fun to do when you’ve got less time because it shows you how well you can do things and what your staff can do and what the building can do.”
While some setups require outside materials — rodeo dirt, tennis courts and wrestling mats are imported — much of the equipment is stored under the building’s concourse.
A tour of the storage area reveals spare hockey glass, concert equipment, a dismantled boxing ring that has been shown countless times on national TV and stacks of hardwood for the basketball court that is put together “like a big jigsaw puzzle,” Tesone said. The track setup for next month’s midget-car races also is stored under the building. Everything is strategically placed.
The Hall’s only limitations are space and weight, since there is a parking garage below the arena floor. That precludes the Hall from ever hosting monster trucks (too much impact) or motocross (dirt mounds are too heavy).
The arena floor is about 41,000 square feet after a $90 million renovation from 1998 to 2001, so there will be no more regulation football games such as the 1964 Liberty Bowl between Utah and West Virginia. Arena football, however, was played at the hall in 2004 with the Atlantic City CardSharks, and that sport remains an option.
So does indoor soccer, as during the renovation, the hockey boards and seating were designed specifically to accommodate soccer nets at each end.
“When we went through the renovation, we looked at the conversions very carefully and we designed certain elements of the building to make the conversions easier,” said Tesone, who is in his 13th year as general manager of the hall but got his start in the business overseeing changeovers at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.
The process is usually smooth. Tesone said he has never gotten a panicky call at home about something going wrong. The worst thing he could recall was the occasional mistake in painting the ice, which is easily correctable.
“For the most part, we have a good crew here and our guys do a good job,” Tesone said of the employees who work under Wade and Faulk. “They know what they need to do from event to event. And as a result, we’ve been fortunate, we haven’t missed anything. We haven’t missed being ready for an event to load in the morning.”
The closest they came to having a problem was the first time the rodeo was held there in 2011. Hall employees give exasperated-looking smiles when talking about the cleanup from that rodeo, which had to be done overnight to allow for Cirque du Soleil to set up the next morning.
“We had to get all the dirt out,” Wade said. “The rodeo changeover’s always fun, finding all the dirt. Dust sneaks into everywhere.”
There’s some fun involved in the whole process, though. Employees are allowed to play on the various surfaces after hours. The basketball court is always popular for night-time pickup games, and Tesone said he planned to be among the people skating on the ice before today’s Devils game.
Tesone said he also enjoys venturing out from his first-floor office occasionally to watch parts of the changeovers.
“Even for as long as I’ve seen it done, it’s still interesting to watch the transformation,” Tesone said. “We try to be as versatile as we can. We try to do as broad a mix of events as we can. And having these guys that can get us from one event to another is a key part of that.
“It doesn’t matter how much stuff I book. If these guys can’t get ready for the next show, then it’s never going to happen.”
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