Hernandez: City can't afford big renovation of Orange Bowl
By Eric Kalis
It would cost more than double the available $84 million to bring the 70-year-old Orange Bowl Stadium up to par for University of Miami football fans, Miami City Manager Pete Hernandez says. A formal estimate is due in January.
The $84 million would probably cover only necessary structural repairs to the city-owned stadium, Mr. Hernandez said in an interview last week.
While project consultants from Jones Lang LaSalle have said they are targeting a $120 million renovation budget, Mr. Hernandez said much more would be needed to add premium seating and improve team facilities.
"The city and university are making their most serious effort in a long time to restore the Orange Bowl," Mr. Hernandez said. "The problem is, the basic needs may eat most of the [$84 million], which people may not see and appreciate. We want to go beyond structural repairs to improvements that will enhance the fan experience. Otherwise, we have not done much from a fan's perspective."
City and university officials and the consultants are to meet several times in January to craft a financial gameplan for the renovation, Mr. Hernandez said. The goal, he said, is to set a concrete price by month's end.
"We have to be creative in looking for funding sources," he said. "We must make it look like a new stadium, a facility that the university can be proud of. UM has a top 10 football program and should play in a stadium of that caliber."
In a WAXY radio interview last week with host Joe Rose, the university's athletic director, Paul Dee, said the 341,946-square-foot stadium needs suites, club-level seating and new locker rooms.
"We need to develop better seating selection for fans," Mr. Dee said. "I think the city realizes that and is working with us and we are trying to find an economic way to do that."
City and university officials joined the consultants for an early November tour of six football stadiums that had been renovated, Mr. Hernandez said. The tour, he said, helped them understand how to maximize the value of what is spent on the stadium.
"For example, we have the open end of the stadium at the Orange Bowl," Mr. Hernandez said. "The first thing that comes to mind is why not build a structure at the open end with several floors of skyboxes? The problem is that is the wrong place for a premium product. The best value would be to wrap skyboxes along the sideline from end zone to end zone, keeping it low and close to the field. People would be willing to pay for it."
The clock is ticking on the renovation, Mr. Hernandez said. The university's lease with the stadium expires in 2009. But, he said, it's too early to consider a back-up plan for the university if enough money isn't raised or the project extends past 2009, he said.
"The university is more than our tenant – they are our partner in getting this done," Mr. Hernandez said. "We know the lease is there. We are looking at the financial side to be able to put some numbers to ideas by the end of January. We are in that delicate process now and do not want to waste time."