2002 Modernization Award Winner: Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, NJ

06/14/2002 |

Under the Big Top - Adaptive Reuse, Historic Preservation, and Renovation – All Rolled Into One

What do the 1960 Democratic Convention, Ringling Bros. Circus, and Britney Spears have in common? Stumped? They all were hosted in the Atlantic City Convention Center, now known as Boardwalk Hall. Once touted as the world’s largest clear-span space, the 340,000-square-foot building offers 268,000 square feet of exhibit hall space, 20 conference rooms, and a proscenium stage.

Boardwalk Hall, the home of the Miss America pageant since 1940, had become obsolete over the years. A truly grand structure, its grandeur had dimmed.

Host with the Most

In recent years, Atlantic City has been the center of an economic revitalization, and in 1996 the state government turned its attention to Boardwalk Hall. The structure, built in 1929, was given a second life to host performance, sporting, and special events, as well as trade shows and pageants. The adaptive reuse plan also incorporated extensive renovation of the historic building’s Romanesque architecture. Additionally, the modernization had to accommodate the annual Miss America pageant still held each September.

The New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority assigned the arduous modernization to architect Ewing Cole Cherry Brott, Philadelphia, and construction manager Tishman Construction Corp. of New Jersey, Newark, in association with sports design consultant Rosser International, Atlanta, and historical preserver Watson & Henry Associates, Bridgeton, NJ.

“It is a one-of-a-kind structure,” says Andrew Lejnieks, senior project manager, Tishman Construction Corp. of New Jersey, Atlantic City. The hall’s elegant auditorium roof is composed of 10 pairs of three-hinged, arched box trusses, each spanning 350 feet. The inner ceiling, layered in acoustic tiles made from sugar cane fiber glass, had badly deteriorated over time. The most difficult part was the removal and replacement of these tiles and the removal of over four acres of asbestos behind the ceiling.

Tishman devised a unique rolling scaffolding systems suspended from the trusses – 100 feet above the ground – to perform the ceiling removal. “One of the major contract components was to do the asbestos abatement of the ceiling. To gain access to that type of structure, it was cost prohibitive and logistically prohibitive to do it with traditional scaffolding,” explains Lejnieks.

During the Miss America pageants, reconstruction was suspended and the scaffolding concealed. “The work had to be staged so the pageant did not know it was taking place,” says Lejnieks. Fortunately, the new system allowed for the modernization to be completed without interrupting the floor activity below. He adds, “We contemporized the building and yet maintain the original look of the arch.”

Better Than Before

In addition to the ceiling replacement, the team demolished the severely damaged top portion of the floor slab and added a new top with steel plating and reinforced matting. Adds Lejnieks, “We tried to preserve the character and architectural integrity of the building from the inception. The architects did a magnificent job of coordinating the new and the old.” Despite the extensive reconstruction process, the overall design was sensitive to the character of the original structure while enhancing its performance.

Decades of dirt and grime have been removed and the spectacular reflective ceiling gleams again. New rigging, lighting, sound and broadcast support systems, locker rooms, novelty and concession stands, as well as a new seating bowl now grace the structure. And the new flexible seating can be reconfigured for different events. “There’s not a bad seat in the house; it’s true!” says Lejnieks.

As they ride up the escalator from the lobby and ascend into the renovated hall, visitors are always awestruck. “The hall really speaks of Americana. It makes me proud to see people come into the building, to see their eyes wide open, and to hear them say, ‘Wow,’” says Lejnieks.

From the shining arched roof to the breathtaking stage to the golden turtles hidden in the columns, Boardwalk Hall is back and better than ever.

Regina Raiford (regina.raiford@buildings.com) is senior editor at Buildings magazine.

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