Bringing out-of-town entertainment to the Cedar Rapids area during the frigid winter months is sometimes a dirty business for staff at the downtown U.S. Cellular Center.
A Bobcat bulldozer shifted and molded mounds of dirt in the arena Friday morning in preparation for Kicker ArenaCross, which kicks off Saturday, Jan. 4. Crews hauled in over 14,000 tons of dirt into the arena for the indoor off-road motorcycle racing event sponsored by McGrath Power Sports.
Preparation for the event is extensive. The 10 dump trucks hauled the 140 truckloads of dirt into the arena on Thursday, and by Friday morning the dirt filled the floor-space as bulldozers shaped the mounds and hills riders will use to race and perform tricks and flips.
Tod Hammock, creator of the Oklahoma-based Kicker ArenaCross, said 200 to 300 local and national participants will be competing Saturday, with the main event beginning at 7:30 p.m.
The dirt used for Saturday’s event is a special kind of clay and organic dirt mix from McMurrin Trucking located across the Cedar River. Mike McMurrin, owner of the trucking company, said the company has supplied the dirt for events at the Cellular Center for the past decade.
Scott Piquard, director of event operations at the US Cellular Center, said the special mix is also used for rodeo and monster truck events and is preferred because the clay composition holds together well.
“It packs really nice. It’s clean, no rocks. It’s really good material to work with for any kind of these events,” McMurrin said.
About a dozen of McMurrin’s crew got to work at midnight Jan. 1 and began digging out the dirt despite the frigid temperatures and more than two inches of frost in the ground. Crews worked until 7 a.m. that morning.
Although he couldn’t give a specific figure, McMurrin said the whole process is an expensive venture that costs tens of thousands of dollars to haul the dirt, including a week of logistical planning before digging begins.
Piquard said the center sees a variety of entertainment events, from rodeos to ice skating, indoor football and concerts, Each type of event calls for a unique performing environment.
“Dirt is probably the messiest,” he said. “Because it gets airborne and everything gets coated upstairs and the seats. It’s a challenge to clean up and get ready for our next event.”
Piquard said cleanup is a four-day process that begins immediately after the event. Even after the dirt is hauled out, a “big muddy mess” remains and manual labor begins to scrub out the dirt with mops and a mechanical floor scrubber. It’s a process that Piquard expects to begin Sunday morning and go well into Monday and Tuesday. The staff must clean the more than 5,500 seats and other dirt-coated parts of the arena for an entirely different event next weekend: comedian Larry the Cable Guy.
The U.S. Cellular Center sustained some damage during the 2008 flood, and although the facility remained operational, events were held at the Cedar Rapids Ice Arena as major renovations were made over the following years and completed in May 2013. Piquard said the renovations have caused staff to readjust how they previously hauled in outside materials such as dirt, ice, or turf.
“It’s a lot of unique challenges, but it’s nice to be back in the arena and to actually be going through these events,” he said.