ARLINGTON -- Inspectors found numerous safety problems during the monthlong project to construct temporary seats at Cowboys Stadium before things took a bizarre turn and the contractor walked off the job just hours before Sunday's Super Bowl, Arlington Fire Chief Don Crowson said Tuesday.
Issues included removing seats that made pathways in and out of the stands too narrow and questions about the stands' structural integrity.
"Problems were found. They were told to correct them," said Crowson, who said the city had never experienced such safety issues during construction of temporary seating at previous Cowboys Stadium events.
Also Tuesday, a Los Angeles-based law firm filed a lawsuit against Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, the Cowboys organization and the National Football League, accusing the defendants of fraud related to Super Bowl tickets.
The suit, filed in federal court in the Northern District of Texas, says that 400 people were denied a seat despite spending thousands of dollars to travel to the game, and also says that some 1,200 Cowboys season-ticket holders paid $1,200 for seats that turned out to be temporary with obstructed views. The suit seeks class-action status and $5 million in damages.
The city of Arlington, the NFL and the Cowboys knew days before Super Bowl Sunday that the installation of about 15,000 temporary seats, which began Jan. 8, was behind schedule.
Contractors were working on the stands, set up in the end zones and along the main concourse, through Sunday afternoon. Until then, city and NFL officials said they had believed they would be finished on time.
But just hours before kickoff, workers with New York-based Seating Solutions walked off the job, leaving approximately 1,200 temporary seats in the west end zone and the north and south main concourses unsafe for fans.
"I witnessed it. A guy came up to me and said, 'We are done. We can't do any more. We're out of here,'" Crowson said. "I called the NFL and told them."
Seating Solutions had declined interview requests from the Star-Telegram on Monday and Tuesday, but company Vice President Scott Suprina said in an KDFW/Channel 4 interview Monday that snow and ice prevented workers from getting to the stadium for two days and that they ran out of time to get the seats done.
"It was just too much to overcome at the end of the project," Suprina told the TV station. "And this was a daunting project. I don't think there's been another Super Bowl where they've added half this many seats."
The Dallas Cowboys contractor, Manhattan Construction, stepped in Saturday and Sunday to try to finish the project, but time ran out, Crowson said.
At about 2 p.m. Sunday, Crowson said he told the NFL that about 400 temporary seats in the west end zone and 850 temporary seats in the north and south concourse were not going to open. The staircases leading up to sections 425A and 430A in the end zone didn't have guardrails and handrails as required.
The seats in the concourse were also deemed not structurally ready, Crowson said.
"They were simply not safe, so these seats could not be used," Crowson said Monday "Had there been an emergency and they tried to access a stairwell that was not completed, somebody could have been injured or worse. That is a condition we will not tolerate or allow."
Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck said he had been apprised a week before the game that there was a tight timetable for getting the stands completed. But it wasn't until he arrived at the stadium about 2 p.m. Sunday that he was told hundreds of seats weren't safe enough.
"That was very disappointing to me. It wasn't totally unexpected, though, because they were telling me they weren't going to make it," Cluck said.
Though the seating debacle has attracted negative publicity nationwide, Cluck said the city's decision to close down the seats was the right thing to do.
"There wasn't any reason to take a risk of one person getting hurt," Cluck said. "I feel terrible for those people. For the rest of us more fortunate, it was a wonderful event, better than I could have imagined."
Cluck, who said he's been given several versions of why the contractor didn't complete the seats, called the issue a moot point Tuesday. He is confident that neither the ice storm nor the seating debacle will hurt North Texas' chance of landing a future Super Bowl.
"I don't feel like our reputation is tarnished. I don't think this is going to impede our success with other bowls," he said. "We were awarded this event because of our stadium. Sure we'll have some things to correct -- we'll do that."
Ice not seen as a factor
Cluck said he is certain the installation of temporary seats will be closely monitored for future stadium events to avoid a repeat.
The ice storm was not a factor in the incomplete project, Crowson has said.
Eventually the 1,200 fans whose seats were not available were accommodated elsewhere in the stadium, though 400 of them didn't get seats.
On Tuesday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league will offer those 400 fans the choice of a $2,400 cash refund and one free ticket to next year's Super Bowl in Indianapolis or one free ticket to a future Super Bowl game with round-trip airfare and hotel accommodations provided by the NFL.
Staff writers Pete Alfano and Andrea Ahles contributed to this report.
Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639