Dolphins prepare for 1st game in remodeled stadium

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) -- The steady thump of a lone hammer resonated at the entrance to the Miami Dolphins' stadium, where the team is about to play for the first time since a major remodeling project began.

Renovations won't be done when the Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons kick off Saturday. The two-year project still has a year to go, and the estimated cost has climbed above $425 million.

But the stadium will be ready for the game. Construction crews scurried about Thursday while Dolphins president and CEO Tom Garfinkel gave a tour of the site.

Some work will go down to the last minute, especially in a suite where furniture has yet to arrive.

"We have some temporary furniture available for the game Saturday," Garfinkel said. "Of all the things to go wrong, not having the furniture show up for these suites, I'll take it. It's one of the only things that went wrong."

All 65,326 seats have been replaced, with some now closer to the field. Reconfigured stands and suites will give ticket buyers many more choices.

"We've got thousands of seats at $45," Garfinkel said. "We've got seats that are $75,000 for four seats for 10 games -- over $1,800 a ticket. And everywhere in between."

Suites and bathrooms have been redesigned, and concourses are being rebuilt. There's lots of new flooring, lighting and woodwork -- and plenty of dust.

The most significant part of the project, a canopy to cover more than 90 percent of the seats, won't be ready until the 2016 season. The roof is being assembled in a lot near the stadium, and work will continue during the season to build the eight supporting columns.

With team owner Stephen Ross paying for the renovations, the Dolphins quickly went into overtime. More than 1,000 workers have been at the site in 10- to 12-hour shifts six or seven days a week for the past six months, which is one reason the project is more than $75,000 over budget.

But it's on schedule, despite some hiccups.

"At one point we had a third of our seats sitting in a container ship off the coast of California, and there was a longshoremen's strike," Garfinkel said. "Fortunately it was settled in a week. If it had taken three months, I'm not sure where we would be sitting."

Now work is winding down for the season. This week is the first time visitors have been able to tour the project without having to wear a construction hat and goggles.

The stadium is also home to the Miami Hurricanes, and they'll play the first game that counts, Sept. 5 against Bethune-Cookman. The Dolphins' first home regular-season game is Sept. 27 against the Buffalo Bills.

The remodeling has coincided with an upswing in expectations for the Dolphins, and this month the franchise sold the last of 47,000 available season tickets. Individual game and group tickets remain.

Garfinkel wants those who attend Saturday's game to have a favorable first impression of the upgraded stadium -- and team.

"The most important part of the fan experience is winning," he said. "That's the first priority around here."