It was a cold Fourth of July in Iowa nearly 60 years ago that prompted a young World War II vet to make a decision that has culminated in a highly successful electrical contracting business today—in a place where a cold July 4 rarely, if ever, occurs. The ex-naval lieutenant, who had earned a degree at the University of California at Berkeley while in the service, told his wife that chilly Midwest day, “I’m going back to California.” His wife, who had relatives in Arizona, replied, “I’ll go as far as Phoenix with you.” That is how Albert G. Wendt, president and owner of Cannon & Wendt Electric Co., found himself in Arizona’s Valley of the Sun, where in 1947 he hired on as an apprentice electrician in Phoenix. The company he joined has since grown steadily and today is Wendt’s multimillion-dollar electrical contracting operation, which currently is completing work on a multipurpose sports stadium destined to become an Arizona landmark.

The future landmark is the $355 million Cardinals Stadium, which will be the new home of the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League. The domed stadium, with its retractable roof, will be the first in North America to have a natural turf playing field that can be rolled completely out of the facility.

For Cannon & Wendt, which was awarded a $26 million contract on the project by the Hunt Construction Group, the unique facility serves as a showcase for the company’s recognized capabilities and skills that it has developed and applied to numerous other major Arizona projects of all types over the years. The Cardinals’ televised football games—along with the 2007 BCS College Football National Championship and the 2008 Super Bowl, which is already on the stadium’s schedule—will focus added national and, in some cases, international attention on the unusual stadium, generating further Cannon & Wendt recognition in the construction industry.

The stadium project is being built in Glendale, a neighboring Phoenix city. Designed by architect Peter Eisenman of New York-based Eisenman Architects, in conjunction with the sports architecture firm of HOK Sports, the facility’s stylish rounded exterior takes its cue from the barrel cactus. It features smooth panels broken by alternating thin vertical openings exposing the interior.

When completed in August, the six-level facility will have approximately 63,000 permanent seats, expandable to 73,000. The design also incorporates 88 private luxury suites, plus 7,400 club seats. During warm weather in the Valley of the Sun, the two retractable roof panels will be closed and the stadium air conditioned, but the translucent fabric roof is designed to provide an airy feeling even when shut. In the cooler months, when the roof is open, the stadium’s alignment will provide maximum shade for spectators.

However, it is the natural turf field that can be rolled in and out of Cardinals Stadium that makes the multipurpose stadium unique. Moveable fields can be found in Europe and Asia, but this will be the first one in North America. The natural grass playing surface will be contained in a single, 12 million-pound tray 234 feet wide, 400 feet long and 3 feet deep. The pan, mounted on steel wheels and powered by electric motors, will be rolled in and out of the stadium on tracks in less than an hour.

The moveable field will serve two purposes. First, it will save money by eliminating the need to open the roof panels in daylight hours so that the more than two acres of turf can receive the requisite natural sunshine. Secondly, by keeping the grass playing field outside most of the year, the 152,000-square-foot concrete stadium floor inside will be available for trade shows, conventions, concerts and other sporting events.

Upon completion of the stadium, Cannon & Wendt personnel will have installed 120 utility boxes in the concrete stadium floor, with various power requirements—30, 60 and 100 amps—and wiring for fiber optics and telephones to meet the flexible needs for trade shows and conventions. This flexibility is expected to be selling point in attracting stadium events and shows.

What else is Cannon & Wendt being called on to install in the stadium?

Ken Bowcock, Cannon & Wendt project manager, said that when the Phoenix company completes the job, it will have installed six double-ended substations, totaling 48,000 amps of power at 480 volts—enough to power 700 homes. In addition, two emergency generators are specified in the contract: one 1,500 and the other 1,250 watts.

When Cannon & Wendt’s portion of the stadium work winds up in July, Bowcock continued, the company will also have installed 37 electrical rooms, 400 electrical panels, 15,000 light fixtures (700 1,500-watt sports lights), 7,000 receptacles and 4,000 fire alarm devices. Tying all this together, he said, will be 170 miles of electrical conduit and four million feet of wire.

To accomplish this challenging task is requiring Cannon & Wendt to use its substantial capabilities and resources built up over the years on a wide variety of Arizona projects. One of the capabilities it applied to the project early on was design-build. Bowcock and superintendent Sterling Woods worked with an engineer to develop the most economical way to wire the project. They said that since they were part of the design in the initial stages, most of the issues that could have come up later in the job were weeded out.

“The reason it was done,” Woods said, “was because of scheduling reasons. They needed to start digging and the concrete work almost a year before we finalized our drawings.”

To facilitate concrete pours, Cannon & Wendt premeasured and prefabricated conduits, metal-clad cable and boxes. They were packaged and labeled for quick movement to the locations where they were needed.

“We had a container made that we could put in all the supplies required for a deck pour, and then we would have a crane fly it up to that deck, when it was our turn to get on it and do our work,” Woods said, pointing out that the company went so far as to build its own prefab shop on-site. “All the materials were there, ready to go. It was just a matter of the electricians installing it.”

“Another thing, we ended up installing conduit on the roof steel while it was being built on the ground, so that when the roof people’s cranes lifted it, our conduit was already on it; ... you can’t reach it later,” Bowcock added.

Other areas that were hard to reach or would be difficult to gain access to after other trades finished their installations required a lot of planning and scheduling on Cannon & Wendt’s part to get its work done first. For example, the 40-foot-high overhead in the service level required that electrical installations to be done and checked before they otherwise became inaccessible. Elsewhere, on the club level and upper concourse special equipment had to be employed to do the job.

For the most part, Cannon & Wendt has all the necessary equipment and tools—approximately $1 million worth—available on the job for its stadium crew of approximately 90, who were drawn from its overall work force of some 250. The company normally maintains a $5 million inventory of tools, parts and equipment that it can draw on to cut job site waiting time for needed items. For the stadium, though, it did have to contract for a crane to install sports lighting on the catwalks.

While the size of the project does present some logistical problems in storing material and getting equipment and tools to workers, there is a plus side, too. Cannon & Wendt is able to facilitate installations by using golf carts and forklifts to transport personnel and material using a concrete ramp inside the stadium that runs from the service level to the upper concourse.

Another aspect of the company’s stadium work is Cannon & Wendt Technologies, a division working separately for another contractor to install audiovisual cabling. With the rapid growth and construction in the Valley of the Sun and elsewhere in Arizona, the technologies division was created to handle a variety of needs, including security, voice and data communications, video, closed-circuit TV, sound and paging, fiber optics, and other related requirements.

Future work force preparation

As it looked to the future and anticipated a growing need for highly qualified personnel, Cannon & Wendt Electric in 1996 created its own training academy. Housed in a modern 3,200-square-foot facility, the academy focuses on such subjects as supervisory and computer skills, construction safety, time management and National Electrical Code updates and changes among other things in its curriculum. Discussing the training academy with Electrical Contractor magazine, the company president said, “You can’t grow unless you have qualified people, so we stress training pretty heavily.”

Training and education are high priorities for Wendt, who has received the National Electrical Contractors Association’s three national awards—the McGraw, Coggeshall and Comstock. In addition, with a contribution of $1 million, he and his wife, Margaret, provided for the establishment of the Electrical Contracting Foundation’s Education Center. Subsequently, the foundation in 1998 created the Wendt Award for Exemplary Leadership and Service to the Electrical Industry.

Wendt believes training and education have been important factors in contributing to his operation’s success. In 2005, he said, the company’s revenue was about $50 million, with approximately $100 million in contracts on the books at the end of the year.

The figures are a reflection of a strategic business change the company made in 1964, the year Wendt became president. At the time, Cannon & Wendt decided to specialize on large construction projects and widen its expertise.

Since then, it has participated in work on high rises, hospitals, public works, resorts, correctional facilities and entertainment and sports facilities as well as other major construction projects.

But what about the future for Cannon & Wendt as it moves toward completion of its Cardinals Stadium contract and work on other major projects? Pausing for a moment to reflect on what he sees ahead in the Valley of the Sun for his company, Wendt confidently said, “The future is unreal; it’s growing so fast ...

I can’t believe how it’s growing.” EC

MAZUR is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles and can be contacted at brmcjjb@earthlink.net.