New designs of park surrounding Miami Marine Stadium
Tony Goldman had the vision to see the vast promise in a rebuilt South Beach, in a reborn Wynwood, and in a restored Miami Marine Stadium.
So says Don Worth, Miami Beach resident and longtime champion of efforts to rebuild and reopen the iconic waterfront stadium on Virginia Key.
Mr. Worth spoke of his admiration for the late Mr. Goldman, a well-known real estate developer, at a recent meeting of the Virginia Key Advisory Board.
He implored city officials to keep and enhance public access to the stadium site and historic basin, at little or no cost to visitors – in addition to the big-ticket events that may rightfully charge for attendance.
Mr. Worth spoke a couple of times during the meeting, in regard to efforts to scale back the time devoted to the Miami International Boat Show at the city-owned property, and in reaction to the latest plan to redevelop the land surrounding the idled stadium.
The city is in the midst of a million-dollar restoration of the concrete stadium, closed since 1992’s Hurricane Andrew. Separate from the stadium project, the city plans a major rebuild of the property hugging the stadium, referred to for the past several years as a flex park.
The board again discussed use of the city property around the stadium for the annual boat show, and Civitas, a design firm hired by the city, presented a new consolidated redevelopment plan for the flex park.
After the board examined renderings and videos of the latest plan for the flex park, Mr. Worth asked to speak.
“I really appreciate your creativity, and just a suggestion, and that’s that you consider keeping the Marine Stadium open as part of a public park with selected hours. Now I understand there are costs with that, and we can get to that, but let me tell you the justification for this.
“This is not my idea. This is actually an idea from a fella named Tony Goldman, who passed away in 2012. If you don’t know Tony, he had an amazing impact on this community. He came down here in 1984, saw Ocean Drive and bought 18 buildings … and did what he did. In 2003 he saw Wynwood, [and] bought 18 buildings. There were other developers in Wynwood but Tony was the main guy; Tony was the Wynwood Walls.
“Tony saw potential in places where nobody else saw it. The way I always like to describe it is: The rest of us see the world in black and white, Tony saw it in Technicolor,” Mr. Worth said.
“When I brought Tony into the Marine Stadium in 2009, he saw it as a passive park – something that I never thought of. I spent six years going into the marine stadium … taking many, many people in, and of course every time we took somebody in they’d walk through the walkway and they just gasped. But what was interesting is that practically every time I was there, there were other people there.
“They were cutting holes through the fence, they were figuring out how, using the tidal charts, you could wade out [into the basin],” he said.
The closed structure attracted attention from a variety of people, he said, and not just graffiti artists and people with skateboards, but people who just wanted to be there and experience the place.
“And I sort of learned a lesson in 2013 when there was a rowing regatta on a Saturday and I went there, and somebody sure enough cut a hole in the fence and the 300 people on the beach watching the regatta pretty much migrated into the stadium. Little kids love it. They love it! They treat it as a jungle gym, they run up and down the ramps, they explore all the interesting spaces. Adults love it. You get a sensational view … you’re in this amazing architectural space.
“Tony would say, ‘keep the place open at sunset,’ watch the rowers row, grab a sandwich, watch the lights in Miami come on on the buildings, one by one. If a floating stage is out there, do yoga on a floating stage.
“When I think of parks, it’s sort of funny, you think traditionally of green space, but what it’s really doing is transporting you and making you feel different. And if I was going to look for a comparison today … it would be the Vessel in New York City. If you know Hudson Yards, it’s this weird thing … it’s a bunch of steps.
“And the Vessel has three elements to it: it’s this weird, interesting, attractive architectural shape; it’s interactive and people like to walk up and down it; and finally you get these sensational views.
“The marine stadium has all three of those things, and people, I will tell you, when they get to that site they just gravitate there … this has to be a destination park.
“And there’s one more thing that I think is important from the stadium’s point of view, that you should consider, and that’s equity,” Mr. Worth said.
“The whole point of this park is to give people in this community access to the water, because most of the [waterfront] is owned by wealthy people with hotels or single-family homes and so forth. Marine Stadium events are going to cost money and some of them are not going to be cheap, and wouldn’t it be nice if we could make the stadium available to somebody’s family to come for free and spend a few hours.
“I would just suggest you consider really trying to incorporate that into the programming, We could figure a way to pay for it,” Mr. Worth said.
Today the flex park space is basically the repaved massive parking lot that surrounds the stadium, which fronts the historic basin that hosted speed boat races in the glory years of the stadium.
The City of Miami owns much of the island, including the stadium, and has already spent millions to outfit the flex park site to host the annual boat show under a license agreement.
The city hired Civitas to provide professional urban design, landscape architecture and engineering services, on a phased basis, for the flex park space.
Civitas presented a variety of potential uses for the space during a community meeting in September 2018, showcased in separate site plans and renderings.
Ideas ranged from a carved out swimming cove to a fitness hub, a festival street to a resilient green space and beyond.
The reaction from much of the crowd was lukewarm at best, with concerned residents pleading for additional and improved public access, and warning against overdevelopment.
Craig Vickers of Civitas was at that 2018 gathering and again at the recent advisory board meeting.
“We came up with a fairly grandiose scheme … you challenged me with that. I heard it. Trust me, we’ve been working hard thinking about other ways,” he told the board.
“We started reacting to that as well as reacting to the strong desire in the community to have access to the water, have a real park space that people can enjoy year round,” Mr. Vickers said.
He said his team is also keeping in mind the boat show and how to make pieces fit around it.
“That’s a complex, complex thing,” he admitted.
The latest flex park plan shows a combination of several uses, including maritime center, historic circle, dry stack boat storage, stadium plaza, flex lawns, elevated park terrace, skywalk, basin gardens, hidden beach, the Coconut Steps, boat ramp, yoga mat, the Flex Center, and the lookout spire.
Artistic renderings show a long meandering skywalk, connecting to a triple-level open-air event space southeast of the stadium.
The current flex park proposals also try to deal with a need for parking, for cars and for vehicles towing boat trailers.
One idea includes adding parking structures on a realigned Arthur Lamb Jr. Road, which is southeast of the stadium site, just off the curved end of the basin.
One site plan presented to the board shows three two-level event spaces along a realigned road, a future nature center and 15,000-square-foot concessions area.
Cost estimates for the proposed phased development of the flex park space ranged from $60 million to more than $100 million.
While a few board members expressed favor with some parts of the latest plan for the flex park, like enhanced public access to the shoreline, some remain skeptical about the boat show’s overall impact on the public property; its present size and scope, coexisting with a rebuilt Marine Stadium and city park.
Board member Lynn Lewis questioned whether the flex park plans would interfere with the start or completion of restoration of the stadium.
Members of the city team said no and that the stadium will be rebuilt first. That work might begin in early 2021, they told the board.
Board Chair Joe Rasco said: “Where does this go next? Where is it in the big picture process? When would any of this go to the [city commission]? How far away are we from that?”
David Snow, a city planner, responded: “We’re a little ways away from that … we’re working very closely with the work on the stadium design and plaza.”
One board member asked who is making the decisions on specifics of what will go on the site.
Mr. Snow said, “As far as specific requirements go … we have a huge team that has been assembled from the city side that is coordinating a multitude of projects, different needs, all of that for this site. And we are trying to make the best decisions from that.
“And also, what’s required from a zoning perspective, parks’ needs, so we are balancing all those different things. But we’re also working with our experts … to make sure that those decisions that are being made have good backing behind it, from an economic perspective to good landscaping and planning perspective as well.”