Six pivotal decisions vital before restoring marine stadium
Written by Michael Lewis on August 15, 2017
An architect has listed more than 50 uses for a restored Miami Marine Stadium, which is heartening, but before the city tries to actually restore the stadium it has six pivotal decisions to make.
The list of possible uses includes many that would be financial failures.
So restoration must follow a solid business plan that outlines not only principal uses but who would operate the stadium and under what payment terms, who would ensure finances to maintain and keep it open, what nearby city properties would be included under the stadium’s umbrella, and how the city would ensure a Good Neighbor Policy with Key Biscayne, which stadium events could isolate.
None of those decisions is the purview of an architect. Nor should a city manager who is unlikely to be in his job long after the fall election be deciding.
This one falls into the lap of a new mayor and city commissioners who will be playing musical chairs this fall as well. Today is a time when going slowly is the wisest course.
Outgoing Mayor Tomás Regalado told Miami Today eight months ago that four highly reputable venue operators – the Miami Heat, Miami Dolphins, Live Nation and SMG – had all inquired informally about running the restored stadium. That interest, like the list of possible stadium uses, is heartening for those concerned about the site’s future.
But city parameters for stadium uses and ground rules for what the city expects an operator of the city property to do and what that operator must pay to the city in return will certainly alter the list of potential bidders to run the site, perhaps adding more or subtracting some that have inquired so far.
For example, it makes a huge difference whether the city emphasizes boat races, which were once the stadium’s primary use, or concerts, or beauty pageants, or business meetings, or air races.
And the city certainly should not decide that all 50-plus uses on the list or others to be found are equal, if only because a restored stadium still must be tailored in advance for its users.
There will be no pageant dressing rooms if the stadium doesn’t provide them from the outset, no provisions for global media facilities without planning, no boxing and wrestling events without a ring, no concerts without a floating stage, no summer camp without proper facilities, and so on. Each potential use adds to cost, and there isn’t space to give primacy to every use at once.
Equally important, no stadium operator wants to handle all of these 50-plus disparate projects, and financial return will be vital to both operators and a city that will have to pay for stadium upkeep.
If the city sets up a stadium foundation and board, as it should, the foundation will count on revenue from events to fund the stadium in perpetuity – remember, the stadium closed its doors after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, but it was bleeding money for at least five years before the hurricane hit, money that came out of taxes, because no boat races were run in those years.
There was no reserve fund then for stadium care and restoration. There should be in the future. The $45 million in borrowing that city voters have authorized is only for a one-time restoration, not to fund operations, maintenance or upgrades. And wise city officials will tap stadium revenues to help repay those bonds.
Mayor Regalado ran for office eight years ago with marine stadium restoration as a primary campaign plank. It’s logical that he wants a restoration now as his legacy.
But it’s even more logical to nail down business plans to keep the stadium open in perpetuity before doing site work. Will a so-called flex park around the stadium be part of the package, and how will it be used – we were promised soccer fields when it was built, but the city manager has since told us the fields are impossible there.
Before we move forward with a concrete restoration based on hopes for 50-plus uses that surely aren’t all practicable either, city officials need to present to a future mayor and commission potential answers to the key questions: what are the best site uses, what lands are included, what financial terms does the city seek, who are potential bidders to handle the chosen uses, how will Key Biscayne be protected and what entity – city hall or a foundation – will oversee the operators, the sites and the money?
Without those answers in advance, a restored stadium will weigh heavily on future taxpayers and is unlikely to fulfill its promise for any of the 50-plus uses.