With its giant steel compression ring perched nearly 300 ft in the air, the MSG Sphere at The Venetian is putting on a Las Vegas show before the venue is even complete.

A DEMAG CC-8800, the world’s fourth-largest crawler crane, placed the 170-ton ring atop a steel shoring tower on Feb. 18. The lift marks a major milestone in the $1.66-billion project to build the 17,500-seat Sphere, begun in 2018 and scheduled to be complete in 2023.

The owner, New York City-based MSG Entertainment, recently assumed the role of construction manager, although former general contractor AECOM remains involved in the project.   

“Even the scale of the equipment needed for construction is unique,” says Nick Tomasino, vice president of construction for the Madison Square Garden Co., in a statement. “This specialty crane allows us to execute the complexities that come with building the largest spherical structure in the world, safely performing lifts that require an incredible amount of expertise and precision.”

The challenge was formidable: The Sphere’s nearly 100-ft-dia compression ring, which will serve as the apex of the steel frame for the venue’s domed roof, weighs nearly as much as two Boeing 757 jets. [Watch video of the lift.]

Workers assembled the ring on site, welding and bolting the prefabricated steel pieces over three weeks.

The ring now sits atop a temporary 285-ft-high steel shoring tower in the center of the venue. The tower will be removed after the roof’s steel frame is finished.

Crews will use a hydraulic lift atop the shoring tower to calibrate the compression ring’s exact position before placing the roof trusses.
MSG chose the massive crawler crane over a boom crane since its tracks allow the crane to manage heavier lifts and rotate a full 360 degrees, the company said.

Arriving in Las Vegas in January 2020 via Belgium and the Panama Canal, the 580-ft-tall crane weighs 869 tons, including the 850 tons of counterweight added for stability. The site’s second-largest crane, a Manitowoc MLC 300, with a lifting capacity of 350 tons, was commissioned solely to assemble the CC-8800 crane.

The construction site’s natural ground is too soft to support the giant crawler, so the CC-8800 runs on 50-ft-by-6.5-ft tracks and steel mats atop a half-acre custom-composite soil pad.

Now settled in the northeast corner of the site, the crane is busy delivering materials across the 366-ft-tall and 516-ft-wide MSG Sphere and down into the center of the venue.

The 170-ton compression ring was the heaviest lift in the entire project, but the CC-8800 can handle more than 10 times that weight. Last fall, the project team spent two days moving the crane to the southern end of the venue so it could place two 240-ton steel girders, which sit 140 ft off the ground and span the length of what will be the venue’s stage. Those girders will ultimately help support the 13,000-ton, steel-domed roof. 

When complete, the Sphere will offer more than 160,000 sq ft of display surface, roughly equal to the size of three football fields, with an infrasound haptic system adding deep vibrations so guests can “feel” the music experience. MSG Entertainment has plans to build Sphere venues in other locations such as London after completing the Las Vegas project.