Super Steel for Super Bowl
Capitol Steel Structures tackles complex, challenging projects
While most football fans were getting ready for Super Bowl watch parties the day before the big game on Saturday, February 1st, Ruben Diaz was watching Lady Gaga perform from VIP seats at a pregame extravaganza in a building that he and his firm, Capitol Steel Structures, designed and constructed especially for the weekend.
The glamor and glitz of the entertainment at Meridian at Island Gardens, built on the Miami waterfront specifically for football’s biggest weekend, pales in comparison to the herculean efforts of Diaz and his team to complete the project on time—less than three months from start to finish. But taking on complex steel structures is where Capitol Steel Structures shines.
Established in 1973, the company provides detailing, design, fabrication and erection of structural steel and other metals in Florida. With a reputation for getting the job done, in the case of the special event center for Super Bowl weekend entertainment, Capitol Steel Structures met incredible deadlines to build the 65,000-square-foot arena where the AT&T TV Super Saturday Night concert was held on the eve of Super Bowl LIV, the 54th championship matchup. The company fabricated more than 500 tons (1 million pounds) of steel to get the structure ready for three days of entertainment leading up to the big game.
Diaz, Owner and President, was contacted in September by Consortium Entertainment to design and build the entertainment venue. That’s when he went into action to do what Capitol Steel Structures does best. “I met with them in the morning and then sat down with my engineers. Within a day or two, we started working on designs. We finished the building two weeks before the Super Bowl weekend,” he says.
Tackling big projects and meeting deadlines are key strengths of the firm. With more than 40 years of experience, Capitol Steel Structures is a full-service, AISC-certified steel fabrication and erection company.
Founded by Diaz’s father, Ruben Andres Diaz Sr., the company, originally named Capitol Rental Building Equipment, started out providing the South Florida area with construction equipment for rent, such as steel-tie beam clamps for concrete pouring. “My father came to Florida from Cuba in the early ’60s. Along with my mother’s support, always by his side, they started doing construction supply deliveries. Together, they laid the foundation for the origins of Capitol Steel Structures,” Diaz says. “In 1973, he decided to venture out on his own, fabricating tie beam clamps to rent to construction clients for 30 cents a piece per week. That’s how the company started.”
As Diaz Sr. delivered the steel-tie beam clamps to construction sites, clients would invariably need other metal products. Little by little, he began fabricating more items from his small shop by the Miami River, including columns, beams and angles.
Diaz remembers his days as a young child growing up around his father’s shop. “I was pretty much raised there. My father kept me by his side day in and day out. As I got older, I started doing tasks, such as sweeping the floor of the steel shop, painting and drilling holes,” he recalls.
In high school, he became a certified welder and took drafting and CAD classes. “We started getting asked to price more structural steel work. We landed a job to do steel beam pyramids for a club in Coconut Grove. I did drawings for the job and fabricated it with the help of our guys,” he says.
Considering himself an average student, Diaz says he lacked the grades to get a college scholarship. But his parents wanted more for him. So he applied to the University of Florida, documenting some of the steel projects he had built. The college took notice of his exceptional work. On his birthday in 1993, he received a letter of acceptance into the University of Florida’s summer architectural program, with a condition: If he passed, he would be admitted to the university’s architecture department in the fall.
Sure enough, that fall, Diaz was admitted as a full-time student in architecture and design. After four semesters, during which he posted in the top 10 of his class, Diaz moved on to advanced course work, getting his architecture degree in 1997. His last semester was spent studying in Italy.
Growing the Business
When he returned to Florida in 1997, Diaz went full force into the business, doubling gross sales during his first year back from college. The next year, gross sales doubled again. That trend continued to ascend year after year.
Diaz’s talent and ability to embrace new challenges and technologies led to bigger and more complex structural steel jobs. “When I came back, I made myself a cubicle away from everyone else, where I would do estimates at night, drawings during the day and then be with the guys in the field fabricating and installing. Little by little, we brought in new technologies for drawing and methods for fabrication, and we started bringing in bigger and more sophisticated jobs,” he recalls.
Thanks to his architecture background, Diaz is able to sit with clients and quickly sketch out a structural steel component so they can visualize and understand it in a way they couldn’t before. “I can go to a job site, look at the area and do a quick perspective on a sheet of paper and we are able to move forward with a solution and clear image of what will be built,” he says.
“I can go to a job site, look at the area and do a quick perspective on a sheet of paper and we are able to move forward with a solution and clear image of what will be built.” Ruben Diaz, Owner and President, Capitol Steel Structures
Today, Capitol Steel Structures designs and fabricates steel structures for general contractors as well as developers and private property owners. His buildings have included hotels, shopping malls, schools, hospitals and office towers. “You name it, we’ve done it,” he says. On 80% of its projects, the firm is working off engineered drawings provided by the client, but often Diaz works with engineers to design the most feasible way to fabricate a structure.
The company’s shopping center project in South Miami near the Sunset Place mall is a case in point. “It was a unique design, with an angled pitched roof and walls,” Diaz says. The project won an Eagle Award for Excellence in Construction from the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), Florida Gulf Coast chapter.
Another notable project was a solar-powered floating house, designed by housing startup Arkup to withstand Category 4 hurricanes. “We were hired to fine-tune the existing structural steel and build a structural steel frame for a steel barge from France that was turned into a houseboat,” he says. This project also won an ABC Eagle Award for Excellence in Construction in 2019.
“Meeting schedules is key to the company’s growth,” Diaz says. The Capitol Steel Structures team also excels at problem-solving. “In construction, there is always something that comes up that needs attention. We’re very hands-on and look for multiple solutions to any error. We find ways to not let the project get off track, and we make sure we find feasible, financially sound solutions to any problem that may arise.”
Capitol Steel Structures employs 30-plus people—a team of estimators, project managers, superintendents, detailers, steel fabricators, certified welders, steel erectors, architects and engineers. Besides structural steel buildings, the company also has a metal division that builds steel stairs and guardrails, balcony rails and handrails, gates and fences, as well as solar-panel support structures.
“We have guys who have been with us since 1992,” Diaz says. “My father, who passed away 10 years ago, along with my mother, instilled a family atmosphere here. Everyone loved him dearly. I maintain that level of relationship with our employees. My situation is unique since I’ve grown up with many of our employees, some of whom have been part of the Capitol Steel family since the early ’90s and are still with us today.”
Diaz looks for ways to advance the company and its capabilities. Capitol Steel Structures recently received its AISC certification from the American Institute of Steel Construction, a designation that requires a rigorous application process and a site audit to verify a company’s quality management system. Diaz is instituting training on new methods of quality control and procedures. He also has acquired the machinery and equipment to produce custom pre-fab steel buildings and plans to develop an e-commerce site where customers can order unique steel products online.
“In mid-2019, we came up with a game plan to expand our fabrication capabilities,” he says. “We just installed a new beam drill line that reads our drawings and fabricates instead of our workers having to mark and punch holes manually. This opens up new avenues of work for us to explore.”
Diaz’s hands-on leadership style clears roadblocks so the team can keep moving to meet its goals. “As owner, I’m there to resolve problems. We communicate a lot through weekly and monthly meetings with project managers. I keep both my senior people and the shop workers up to date on the state of the business and that inspires our workers. They have the talent and know-how to be very important pieces of the puzzle here. Everybody is pulling in the same direction,” he says.
An example of the firm’s ability to address challenges is the performance venue that had to be finished by Super Bowl weekend. “The design of the building’s skin was not fully waterproof, and rainwater was trickling in on the edges of the building. We assessed the situation, came up with a solution and fabricated overnight. The next morning, we had 15 guys on the rooftop sealing the edges that were causing the water to infiltrate,” he recalls.
Diaz says it was an “amazing” experience for him and several key members of his team to watch the Super Bowl weekend performances in the arena his firm constructed. “We received many compliments the night of the show. Several people from different backgrounds approached us and were interested in the possibility of working together on future projects,” he says.
“Seeing Lady Gaga swinging off the steel trusses and watching how successful the show was put things into perspective, and I realized the magnitude of what we accomplished,” he adds. “We processed a building consisting of a million pounds of steel in a short time frame. We received the first piece of steel on Oct. 28 and started installing it on Nov. 21 and had the structure completely done by Jan. 5. It was quite an impressive feat.”
However, Diaz and his staff strive to keep growing. “We started the new year looking for the next project. It’s my nature. Our energy level is high, and we look forward to continued success,” he says.