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Stadium Tragedy Clouds Future

A lighted numeric sign has counted down the days until the Milwaukee Brewers open Miller Park.

The display, visible from the freeway that runs past both County Stadium and the new park, read 261 on Wednesday. After an accident killed three workers and seriously damaged the new stadium, the display was dark Thursday.

"We have no idea as to whether there will be a delay or not. We could just as likely be opening on time as not opening on time," said Brewers spokesman Laurel Prieb, the husband of team president Wendy Selig-Prieb and son-in-law of baseball commissioner Bud Selig.

A 567-foot crane collapsed while lifting a piece of the retractable roof Wednesday, crushing another crane and landing heavily on the first-base side of the $400 million ballpark. Winds were gusting to 26 mph at the time of the crane collapse.

But despite several hundred tons of smashed, mangled structure, the Brewers insisted plans to open the ballpark next April haven't been abandoned.

"I have never been through anything like this in my life," Selig-Prieb said. "The only thing we know for sure is that Miller Park will be built, it will have a retractable roof and it will be second to none."

Prieb said the team is playing "a very secondary role in what is going on" in the investigation of the accident. The team's most pressing concerns are financial burdens and public relations problems that delays might cause.

Officials said the main concerns are finding replacements for the crane and for the roof pieces, which are made with a type of steel manufactured only in Luxembourg.

Milwaukee canceled its Thursday game against the Kansas City Royals rescheduled it as part of a doubleheader Friday. Both teams held closed workouts Thursday at County Stadium.

The Brewers also plan to wear a memorial patch featuring the logo of the ironworkers' local union.

The team announced that the County Stadium bleachers the section of the old park closest to the accident will be closed until the investigation is complete. Fans with tickets for the bleachers will be given different seats for their game or another.

"We are a family in the Brewers organization and in the Milwaukee community," Brewers outfielder Jeromy Burnitz said. "The workers at Miller Park are a part of our family, and this loss has affected us all very deeply."

Officials stressed that County Stadium is completely safe.

"This is still a dangerous area for when they start picking things up, but it won't affect the activity in the other ballpark," fire chief Larry Gardner said.

For several years, the team has planned its marketing and publicity agendas around Miller Park's existence. The team's slogan for the current season is "Bringing Down the House," and County Stadium was scheduled for demolition this winter.

Now the team faces the prospect of remaining in Count Stadium in 2000 and even beyond.

Any delay in opening the ballpark would deprive the Brewers of millions of dollars in revenue. Fortunately for the Brewers, the Miller Park project is thoroughly insured, members of the stadium's board of directors said.

The project has $325 million in property insurance and $70 million in liability insurance, with a deductible of $25,000, board member Bill Duckett said. The policy also contains a rider covering actual lost income sustained by the Brewers if the stadium is unable to open on time.

"You pay large premiums for policies like this, and you hope you'll never have to use them," board chair Bob Trunzo said.

Residents in five counties surrounding the stadium have paid a 0.1 percent stadium sales tax since 1996 to help fund the project. A recent audit concluded the tax must remain in effect until 2014.

Selig, who put the team in trust when he became commissioner last July, traveled to Seattle on Thursday for the opening of Safeco Field and was unavailable for comment.

Brent Emons, business manager for Ironworkers Local 8 which represents workers on the project, said some workers were doubtful it was safe to do the lift Wednesday because of the winds.

"We're not engineers. We're iron workers. But we have a gut feeling of when we should and when we shouldn't, and most of our guys felt we shouldn't," he said.

Ironworkers Local 8 business representative Steve Boudreaux told WITI-TV in Milwaukee that he spoke with one of the dead men 75 minutes before the accident. Jerome Starr questioned whether the lift should have been done Wednesday, Boudreaux said.

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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