Building The Future Together

Source:  , Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

John Hunzinger helped build the Bradley Center. Now, he’s in charge of tearing it down.

The CEO of the family-owned Brookfield-based construction firm, one of the oldest construction companies in the Midwest, and several longtime employees know the 30-year-old building inside and out.

That was clear when they discussed prospects for recycling the massive granite panels that form the building’s outer layer once demolition begins about this time next year.

“You need to pop one off, and the rest will come off really easy,” said Joel Becker, a Hunzinger vice president who was part of the Bradley Center construction team.

“That’ll be easy,” agreed John Jansen, another Hunzinger engineer who helped build the arena. “They’re just bolted on.”

The BMO Harris Bradley Center will be removed once the Milwaukee Bucks’ new $524 million arena is cleared for occupancy. The new arena, constructed with $250 million in public money, is scheduled to open in time for the 2018-’19 NBA season.

The Bradley Center was a $90 million gift to the community by the late Jane Bradley Pettit, who made the donation in the memory of her father, Harry Lynde Bradley, co-founder and chairman of the Allen-Bradley Co. The company is now Rockwell Automation.

A number of events are planned to commemorate the gift and the building’s legacy in its final year, including a fundraising campaign in support of local groups that Pettit supported.

The Bucks hired Hunzinger to build the entertainment block, a complex on the east side of the new arena that includes a plaza, beer garden and several buildings that will house a brew pub, restaurants and shops. That work is just getting underway.

In addition, Hunzinger will work with Veit & Co. Inc. to oversee removal of the Bradley Center.

The demolition work will be an unusual addition to the résumés of a number of Hunzinger employees who helped build the Bradley Center, John Hunzinger said.

“All of us were very youthful young lads,” Hunzinger, 59, said. “The Bradley Center was one of the earlier projects we all worked on.”

People who work in construction can view their accomplishments for years.

“They see that landmark every day,” Hunzinger said. “They’re buildings that I go into — Miller Park, the Marcus Amphitheater — I can remember when we were building it.”

He added: “Our professional career is marked by these projects that we’ve been involved with.”

Engineer Joel Becker, 63, has similar flashbacks.

“I think about all of the people who worked there on our team,” he said. “Those guys are logged in our memories pretty deeply.”

It’s happened before that the company has taken down a high-profile building that it helped erect.

Hunzinger was the contractor for construction of Milwaukee County Stadium, which opened in 1953, and handled the demolition in 2001, 48 years later. In that case, the same employees weren’t involved in both ends of the project. (Hunzinger was also a local contractor involved in construction of Miller Park, which replaced County Stadium as the Milwaukee Brewers’ home.)

It’s a different story for the Bradley Center, which is closing after three decades.

The Hunzinger team knows how it will unfold. Demolition will begin inside and proceed with the removal of the granite, and then the structure itself, they said. Work will start on the south side, facing W. State St., and more toward the north.

“You never have a thought when you’re building these buildings of their demise,” said engineer Larry Palank, 62.

“But this building served its purpose.”

Hunzinger agreed.

“The new arena’s time has come. And the Bradley Center’s time has gone,” he said.

“It’s going to be gone. It’s kind of unusual, ” said Jansen, who at 53 is the youngster in the group.

“It’s just another project,” Jansen said. “In this case, you’re just bringing it down.”