NEW YORK (AP) A towering crane lowered a final steel beam into place over Arthur Ashe Stadium on Wednesday as the U.S. Open's center court moved closer to being covered by a retractable roof.
The roof will be ready to be used in 2016. Now that the superstructure supporting it is up, workers can begin the process of removing the three cranes from the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center to get ready for the final Grand Slam event of the year. The U.S. Open begins Aug. 31.
This is the second straight year an enormous construction project at the tennis center will be broken down in the months leading up to the tournament. U.S. Tennis Association executive director Gordon Smith said he is confident the center will be ready to go.
''The fans, the players will barely notice the difference on the grounds,'' Smith said.
The $500 million project, paid for by the USTA, will result in a retractable roof with an opening large enough to lower Wimbledon's center court and its retractable roof though it.
A new 8,000-seat Grandstand is also set to open next year, along with expanded and restructured grounds that will increase the capacity for the U.S. Open by about 10,000 to more than 45,000.
In 2018, a new Louis Armstrong Stadium will open that will seat 14,000. There are no plans to put roofs on the other stadiums, Smith said.
Smith said the project is on time, despite constant snow this past winter in New York that had to be worked around. An additional crane was brought in to help make up for lost time.
Since last year's U.S. Open ended, more than 5,000 tons of steel, 1,700 structural beams and 115,000 3-pound bolts have been installed.
''It's been an unbelievably monumental task to do this during a horrendous winter,'' Smith said.
The tennis center grounds were filled Wednesday with busy construction workers in brightly covered hard hats and vests.
The final steel beam, draped in an American flag, was lowered from a crane down to three workers on top of the superstructure, high above the court at Arthur Ashe Stadium. They quickly set it in place.
Smith said the roof will take 5-7 minutes to open and close, and a fabric canopy covering will be used to ensure uneven shadows do not affect players. More fans will be shaded from the sun, though - generally a good thing on those hot late summer days.
''The important thing for us was to still be an outdoor stadium,'' said Daniel Zausner, chief operating officer for the tennis center.