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Cards close to finishing $450 million showplace

GLENDALE, Ariz. (April 18, 2006) -- Looking something like a giant space ship amid the farmland at the western end of suburban Phoenix, the $450 million new home of the Arizona Cardinals is nearing completion.

Michael Bidwill, Cardinals vice president and general counsel, gave the Arizona chapter of The Associated Press Sports Editors a tour of the spectacular building, calling it "the most technologically advanced sports facility ever been built."

Architect Peter Eisenmann, whose projects include the Holocaust museum in Berlin, designed the stadium that will give the Cardinals their first true home since the franchise moved from St. Louis in 1988.

The retractable roof is translucent, allowing in light even when it is closed, which it will be when temperatures hit triple-digits early in the coming season.

The most intriguing feature, though, is the field itself. Made of natural grass, it will sit outside under the desert sun 340 days a year, Bidwill said. For games, it will slide into the stadium like a kitchen cutting board.

"It's a tray. I call it a cake pan about three feet deep," Bidwill said, "a single unit that rolls into place in 45 minutes. It weighs about 17 million pounds and rolls on about 500 wheels on 13 rails."

When the field is rolled outside, it leaves 152,000 square feet of space for conventions, trade shows or other events.

The grass will be planted this month.

The completion date is Aug. 1, 11 days before the grand opening, a preseason game against the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

Workers are putting in the last of the 63,000 seats, a number that can be increased to 73,000 for major events.

Already on the schedule is this season's NCAA Division I football championship game, to be played under the new Bowl Championship Series format a week after the Fiesta Bowl, and the 2008 Super Bowl.

For the first time since the team moved to Arizona, the Cardinals will open their regular season at home, Sept. 10 against the San Francisco 49ers. In years past, Arizona would play at least its first two on the road because of the desert heat.

When the Cardinals did play at "home," it was at Sun Devil Stadium, where metal bleachers only worsened the heat. It didn't help that the product was often lousy, too. The Cardinals have had one winning season since coming to Arizona.

That, too, will change, the Cardinals insist, pointing to their offseason acquisition of running back Edgerrin James.

Running back Marcel Shipp, a Cardinal for five seasons, toured the new stadium for the first time and came away highly impressed.

"I got goose bumps just walking through there," he said.

The Cardinals put $150 million into the stadium, with most of the rest coming from a tourism tax on hotels and motels, and a rental car surcharge. The Cardinals will retain whatever they get from naming rights.

Whatever the franchise's reputation, the building already received major attention across the country and internationally. It even has been the subject of a Discovery Channel documentary.

Hunt Construction, a main builder of stadiums around the country, is the major contractor.

After finally getting a shot at building a new home, the Cardinals didn't want just another stadium, said Bidwill, whose father Bill is the team's longtime owner.

"We didn't want to see the 2006 Ford Taurus vs. the 2005 Ford Tauruses," he said. "We wanted to really break the mold."

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