BY ANDRES VIGLUCCI
The Roman Colosseum it's not, but it is round. The publicly financed, $634 million Marlins baseball stadium is rapidly taking shape in East Little Havana, where its tall roof-support columns already loom like alien monoliths over the modest apartment houses around it.
After seven months of construction, work is about a quarter done and “on track'' for the scheduled April 2012 opening, team officials and their contractors said Tuesday during a media tour of the stadium, which occupies the site of the demolished -- and also round -- Orange Bowl.
“We will be ready to play ball,'' said Sid Perkins, construction manager for the joint-venture contractor, Hunt/Moss. “There is no doubt.''
The shell of the 7-story main structure, which will house team offices as well as luxury suites, has been topped off, water pipes and bathrooms are going in, and grandstand construction is under way. The poured concrete looks nice and smooth.
The stadium shell is relatively simple to build, though the ziggurat-shaped, cantilevered grandstand supports can be “a little tricky,'' Perkins said.
But the real engineering and construction feat may be the support system for the stadium's retractable roof. On the north and south sides of the stadium, four slender, oval columns hold up concrete beams weighing millions of pounds, cast on site and hydraulically lifted into place.
The columns only suggest how high the stadium's going to go -- 264 feet at the roof's tallest point, or the equivalent of a 25-story tower.
The two sets of columns are of differing heights. The base of the sliding roof, Marlins vice president Claude Delorme noted, will slant from 157 feet on the north down to 127 feet on the south in an attempt to lessen the impact on 80-year-old apartment buildings across the street that are just two to four stories tall.
As the builders close the perimeter, the intimate scale of the 37,000-seat stadium, one of the smallest in the major leagues, is becoming apparent. Seats will be unusually close to the field, and more than third of them will be on the bottom tier. Even the last row of nosebleed seats, at 124 feet above ground level, will be practically on top of home plate.
Most seats will have at least a partial view of downtown Miami's skyline to the east when the roof is open, though structural elements may obstruct some vistas. Over left field, six massive, moveable glass panels will permit views of the towers fronting Bicentennial Park even when the dome is shut.
Also underway: About $17 million worth of improvements to public infrastructure, including new water and sewer lines, to accommodate the stadium.
Yet to start: The two large parking garages, to be built by the city of Miami, that will also house restaurants and retail at the stadium's north and south flanks. The north garage is to start construction in May, the Marlins' Delorme said, and both structures should be done in time for the stadium's inauguration.
Breaking with a longstanding trend of ‘’retro'' downtown ballparks that blend into their urban surroundings, the streamlined Miami stadium is distinctly contemporary in design, the preference of Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, a modern-art dealer. But some critics say that lends the park the appearance of being ''plunked down'' in the old neighborhood, with at least one wag likening its bowl shape to a bidet.