July 14, 2021
The origins of the Topping Out ceremony are a mystery. One popular theory posits the Scandinavians of the 8th century CE for starting the tradition. They placed a fern tree on their newly minted buildings. Others credit the ancient Romans or the Chinese or the Native Americans as its inventor. Whatever its beginnings, it was mostly a private event amongst the workers for more than a millennia.
It was not until the late 1800’s when the spectacle of hoisting the final steel beam hundreds of feet into the air atop skyscrapers, that the event became an official ceremony. In that same era, the American Flag began accompanying the fern tree as a political statement by the Ironworker Unions charged with the construction of the massive structures.
On Wednesday, San Diego State continued the Topping Out tradition and held a ceremony to mark the final piece of steel placed at the New Aztec Stadium. Gathered to mark the occasion were leaders from SDSU, Clarke Construction Group and the City of San Diego.
The celebration was the most public demonstration to date that the attacks levied against the project leading up to the 2018 vote that awarded the Mission Valley site to SDSU were unfounded. Warnings of delays because the university lacked the financial wherewithal to complete an undertaking of this magnitude was a common refrain from the opponents to SDSU’s ballot initiative. The new stadium’s steel skeleton stands as a substantial sign that the project will be completed on time for the September 3, 2022, season opener against the University of Arizona.
“It’s just the world today,” SDSU Athletic Director JD Wicker said. “It’s like you hear something said, and (the response is), ‘Oh, I don’t really believe it.’ We believed it. We have been transparent. We have said all along, ‘September 3, 2022.’ It hasn’t been easy, but we kept our head down. We have done our work. We engaged the community. I am very proud of the work everyone has done to get to this moment. We still have work to do, but we are in a good place.”
In addition to the stadium, the project is scheduled to include an Innovation District, 4,600 residential units, a 400 room hotel, and a 34-acre river park. Once complete the SDSU Mission Valley will allow SDSU to increase its enrollment by as much as 15,000 students according to the project’s website.
“While it’s the stadium that we are here to ‘top out’ today, I want to draw the public’s attention to the fact that this is so much more than just a stadium,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said. “I’m excited to think about the San Diego families who will have a beautiful new river park to enjoy right behind us. I’m excited to think about what emerges from the new SDSU Research and Innovation District and all of the potential possibilities that will emerge from the research and work done there. I’m extremely excited about the 4,000 new homes that will be here to put roofs over people’s heads because the rent is too high, too many folks can’t afford to live in this city, and we have too many homeless people. The way you solve that with more housing.”
Due primarily to the size limitations of the current campus, SDSU ranks 16th in the state of California among colleges and universities with 34, 893 according to College Stats. The University of Southern California is the largest four-year university with 46,174 students. With 64,700 applications in the Fall of 2020, SDSU could challenge USC for the largest university in the state.
Already 400,000 alumni live in the San Diego – Tijuana region providing an estimated economic impact of $5.67 billion dollars. With the added enrollment, the university will continue to be one of the driving forces in the region’s economy and for individual social mobility. In April, the Princeton Review ranked SDSU as the 38th for “Return on Investment.”
With these benefits on the horizon, it is fitting to celebrate the significant steps in the journey to the completion of SDSU Mission Valley. The Topping Out tradition provided the university and their friends an opportunity to do just that.
The next step is fitting the precast seat breakers on top of the steel. That is scheduled to be completed in October. The scoreboards and the first seats are scheduled for installation at the end of this year.
“What an amazing accomplished,” SDSU President Adela de la Torre exclaimed. “This is something that started before I even came as president, but now it is a reality. It’s a reality in less than a year, we are topping out this amazing stadium, and it’s so much more. When you think about the river park, the innovation district, the housing. This is going to be a hub like no other hub, and I am grateful for everyone here. This is not only a construction milestone, it is the beginning of a vision.”
My earliest sport’s memory involve tailgating at the Murph, running down the circular exit ramps, and seeing the Padres, Chargers and Aztecs play. As a second generation Aztec, I am passionate about all things SDSU. Other interests include raising my four children, being a great husband and teaching high school.