Miami moving to reaffirm its Marine Stadium vows

Miami Today, Written by on October 24, 2023

The city is planning to reaffirm its commitment to rebuilding the aging Miami Marine Stadium by dedicating more than $60 million to it.

Today (10/26), the Miami City Commission is to weigh a resolution to declare the city’s official intent to issue $61.2 million in special obligation bonds to reimburse itself for expenses incurred concerning capital improvement projects at the stadium. If approved, the money will be used for a new welcome center and museum, upgrading dilapidated structures, boat launches and parking areas.

Plans have been in the works for years to renovate the historic Miami Marine Stadium. Constructed in 1963, it was the first US stadium purpose-built for powerboat racing. For decades, it hosted a variety of affairs like boat races, musical performances, movie showings and political events.

During its last few years of operation, the stadium deteriorated as the city showed less interest in managing and maintaining it. In the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, the city said the facility was damaged so badly that it needed to be demolished.

The city requested $1 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for the demolition. However, an engineering study commissioned by the city’s insurance company showed the stadium suffered no damage from Hurricane Andrew but that it required $2 million to $3 million in repairs due to lack of investment from 1964-1992.

The study by Simpson Gumpertz & Heger was made public and the city retreated from its plan and returned the money to FEMA.

For nearly 20 years, Miami Marine Stadium remained closed. Due to a lack of security, the property was vandalized and covered in graffiti. Various redevelopments were proposed, with then-Mayor Tomás Regalado beginning his term in 2009 with a pledge to restore the stadium as his first major act.

The Virginia Key Master Plan was created in 2010 and included the marine stadium and basin. It allowed for a new boat ramp to increase the public’s access to Miami’s waterways.

In subsequent years, the city commission approved grants for site analysis for renovations. The stadium continued to host entertainment exhibits related to Art Basel, Gloria Estefan, Jimmy Buffet and even Elvis.

In January 2015, the city entered an agreement with the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) to bring the Miami International Boat Show to the stadium. The city agreed to make necessary site improvements, originally estimated at $16 million and later increasing to $20 million.

The commission created the Virginia Key Advisory Board in 2016 to help develop policies for all of Virginia Key, including the stadium. The boat show kicked off that year and the city began a study of the landside and seaside pilings.

In July 2016, the commission considered a $275 million general obligation bond issue which included $37 million for the stadium’s restoration. The measure wasn’t approved as several commissioners asked for more details.

Months later in November 2016, the commission authorized $45 million in revenue-bond financing for the stadium. Over the next few years, the city would issue numerous requests for proposals (RFP) for an architect and an operator to manage future events.

In February 2019, the city proceeded with R.J. Heisenbottle Architects to produce a complete architectural plan and construction drawings. However, that March, the city canceled its procurements for the stadium operator and announced a new RFP would be issued soon.

In June 2020, operator negotiations were canceled due to questions about the RFP’s definitions for the eligibility of respondents.

In spring 2021, fresh engineering studies were conducted on the stadium pilings. With the updated data, the city was to finalize its repair plans.

Without any action taken, the original $45 million bond authorization expired in November 2021. In February 2022, the commission deferred re-authorizing the bonds to a future meeting and requested an additional feasibility study.

At that time, the commission also heard an appeal by the Dade Heritage Trust urging that it reverse the Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board’s decision recommending an exception to the city code allowing for a new 90-foot boat ramp at the marine stadium.

The commission denied the trust’s appeal and argued the city needs more public boat launches.

On April 27, the city applied for a $1.25 million grant from the Florida Inland Navigation District Waterways Assistance Program to construct a boat ramp and trailer parking at the stadium.

Now, the city’s latest initiative is to update its official intent to ensure successful completion of Miami Marine Stadium renovations and issue $61.2 million in bonds for a new welcome center and museum, boat launch and trailer parking, mooring field and associated car parking facilities.

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