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Work set to begin for ABC bowling tournament

Work set to begin for ABC bowling tournament


The popular saying “If you build it they will come” doesn’t really apply to the American Bowling Congress Tournament.

About 52,000 bowlers have already indicated they’re coming to Billings next year, so the time has come to construct a temporary 48-lane bowling venue inside MetraPark’s Expo Center.

Work is scheduled to begin bright and early on Wednesday and finish by Monday, Feb. 4.

“We’re anxious and we’re ready, especially seeing this clean, well-lit building,” tournament director Brian Lewis said. “We’re looking forward to getting this show on the road and getting this built.”

Around 40 workers – including AMF Bowling and ABC employees along with some locally hired carpenters – will be tackling the lane installation and other construction projects inside the 96,000-square foot building beginning at 8 a.m. on Wednesday.

The current plans are for crews to work 16 to 20 hours per day, six days a week until the construction is complete.

The Expo Center, which opened in August 1995, recently underwent a nearly month-long, $30,000 cleaning. It’s a multi-use facility and has been home to team roping and cattle shows in recent months.

Lewis estimated that nearly 40 tractor-trailer truckloads of lumber and lane panels, pinsetters and other assorted equipment will be needed in constructing the state-of-the-art bowling center. Some of the bowling paraphernalia – including lockers, furniture, banners and scoreboards –has been stored in Billings since June 2000.

“We use about six miles of electrical wire and enough lumber, they tell me, to build three medium-sized homes,” Lewis said. “We’re somewhat limited in space. This is a little tighter (facility), so that presents some unique challenges. We’ll have to be careful of people not working too much on top of each other.”

The transformation, albeit temporary, won’t come cheap.

“In rough numbers it takes us about a million dollars to get this venue built,” said Lewis. “That includes getting the lanes in, getting the labor to install them and the purchase of equipment. This is a costly thing to put on.”

The 99th annual ABC Tournament will begin on Saturday, Feb. 9 and run through Sunday, June 23. During that period, around 480 new bowlers will be coming to Billings each day to take part in team, singles and doubles events.

The competition, along with the ABC national convention (scheduled for the week of March 10), is expected to pump around $60 million into the local economy.

“Architecturally and time-wise – and this may sound like a bit of an exaggeration but it’s true – you can compare this to one of the wonders of the world,” said Fred White, manager of operations for ABC. “The amount of work and organization that is done to put something like this on is truly amazing. It amazes me.”

Billings submitted the winning bid of $500,000 to the ABC in 1996, and some of that money will be used to cover the expense of converting the Expo Center into a bowling venue, Lewis said.

A portion of the bowlers’ entry fee will also be used to help meet construction costs, he added.

“Our entry fee is $100 per person and roughly half of that goes for the expense of putting this show on,” Lewis said. “The rest goes back to the prize fund.”

The prize fund for the Billings tournament is currently set at around $3.5 million.

With a near-record 10,400 teams already coming to Billings, Lewis said that number “pumps you up and puts maybe a little pressure on us.

“Bowlers are saying ‘I’m going to Billings and I’m expecting something big.’ Here at the venue, we better put on a heck of a show,” said Lewis. “The bowlers have responded. Now the heat is on us.”

When the actual construction begins, Job 1 will be getting the lane beds into place.

“That first day they should be putting together the start of the foundation,” said Lewis. “As that foundation is built they use a laser beam to make sure everything’s level.”

No nails are driven into the floor or walls of the Expo Center.

The foundation, however, is joined together by nails, said Lewis. “On top of that we lay the sub floor and then the actual lane panels . So the whole weight and the whole system is one huge piece of foundation (nearly two-feet thick).”

A series of computerized scoreboards, weighing 100-150 pounds apiece, will be hung from scaffolding situated above the pinsetters.

The automatic pinsetters and ball returns, which are being trucked in from Virginia, are scheduled to begin arriving on Jan. 14.

“We can’t get them here too early because we have nowhere to store them,” said Lewis.

AMF Bowling is involved in its first ABC installation since the 1996 event in Salt Lake City. Besides the lanes, pinsetters and ball returns, AMF will supply its AMFlight pins for the competition.

In addition to building the synthetic bowling lanes, the tournament setup will also include the construction of temporary offices as well as exhibition space for bowling manufacturers and other venders.

Phone and computer networks will also be hooked up.

“We’re pretty much working on the fine details right up to opening day,” said Lewis. “We’re pounding in some of the last nails, making sure all of our displays are nice and the plants are in place … all the little things.

“I can’t wait just to hear that first ball hitting the lane and the pins falling.”


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