Eighteen seconds is all it took on Saturday morning to seal the fate of the embattled 35-year-old Veterans’ Memorial Coliseum.

The 7:49 a.m. implosion of the 48,000 ton monument was observed by a crowd of 20,000 spectators — including hundreds of students — who were gathered on the top floors of parking garages and buildings located around the site’s security perimeter. On the top floors of the Temple Street Garage, some spectators enthusiastically chanted “Blow it up!” Others watched quietly as the sun rose behind the Coliseum one last time. But most were excited to see the structure, which was both a dominant piece of the city’s skyline and an eyesore in the downtown area, come down.

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”14601″ ]

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said during a press conference Friday afternoon that he regretted seeing a city landmark disappear, but the city’s $230 million Gateway Project — which will bring Gateway Community College and assorted retail and residential units onto the site formerly occupied by the Coliseum — will revitalize the city’s downtown.

“It was an important part of the landscape, [but] it was time to let an old friend go,” he said.

Ninety municipal public safety officers and 20 state police officers — and a helicopter — patrolled the Coliseum’s site hours before the implosion and closed streets within the security perimeter. The implosion had been initially scheduled for 7:30 a.m., but it was delayed for 19 minutes after police officers found spectators inside buildings within the security perimeter.

Swaddled in a heavy coat and cap, DeStefano announced delays over a loudspeaker as spectators milled around the top floor of the Temple Street Garage, munching on free bagels and coffee. Yale students turned out in great numbers — some swing dancing, others talking to New Haven residents — and said they found the demolition to be quite exciting.

“It’s not very often you get to see a very large building implode,” Catherine Killingsworth ’08 said.

Andy Gisler ’08 said he was impressed by the sheer magnitude of the implosion.

“I have been looking forward to this for months,” he said. “I like watching things get blown up.”

The delay was the last of a series that pushed the $6.6 million implosion to Saturday. Originally scheduled to be demolished in late 2004, the Coliseum’s implosion date met delay after delay — most recently after United Illuminating voiced concerns in 2005 that electrical equipment directly underneath the Coliseum site would be damaged during the implosion.

To address the concerns, large segments of the coliseum were dismantled during the last months, said Stamford Wrecking Company President Irving Goldblum. Workers covered the ground underneath the Coliseum with 15,000 tires to reduce the impact of the implosion, which involved 1,200 explosives, he said.

“There has been a very extensive study, [and] we have been preparing the structure for months,” he said.

Goldblum said poor weather could have further delayed the implosion of the Coliseum, but it did not prove to be a problem, and the dust cloud drifted eastward away from downtown and the public viewing area. DeStefano said the Coliseum’s remains and parking ramp will be removed using conventional means. The area is expected to open as a temporary parking lot this summer while work begins to create a second parking lot near Union Station.