Miami Marine Stadium champion looks to concerts revenue bonanza
The key to a financially successful restored Miami Marine Stadium will be concerts, says Don Worth, who has devoted much time for more than a dozen years to getting the stadium rebuilt and reopened.
Mr. Worth was one of several speakers during a virtual community meeting April 15 about the future of the famous concrete stadium on Virginia Key. Sponsors were Dade Heritage Trust and the Miami Center for Architecture and Design.
The City of Miami owns much of the island, including the historic Marine Stadium and basin, and the large land area surrounding the idled stadium, known as a flex park.
For several years the city had been working toward restoring the long-idled stadium, closed since 1992’s Hurricane Andrew.
Talk of restoring it was just that for years, until November 2016, when the city commission approved $45 million in bonding to borrow money to fund stadium renovation and other improvements.
The restoration became real in January 2017 when the commission hired R.J. Heisenbottle Architects for architectural and engineering services related to the stadium.
The Heisenbottle firm has estimated the cost to restore the Virginia Key landmark is around $48 million.
City leaders have yet to procure a general contractor for the restoration. Attendees of the on-line event were told the city has an ongoing facility feasibility study focused on the stadium.
Work on the architectural design and necessary permitting has continued and the city commission did approve necessary rezoning to allow the site to once again be a place of assembly.
Richard J. Heisenbottle is the founding principal and president of R.J. Heisenbottle Architects and was also one of the major panel members in the April 15 event. He detailed the history of Marine Stadium, its current state, and possible uses once restored.
“Part of our responsibility was also to program the building,” he said. “What is the building going to be used for? Who’s going to use it? We know we’ll have a contingent of A-listers, starting with Jimmy (Buffet) and Gloria (Estefan), to kick off the stadium and because of its uniqueness I’m sure we’ll have a continuous list of A-list talent that will want to use the stadium to showcase their talent and perform.
“But there are other uses that the stadium could have that have a deeper and perhaps more important effect on the public as a whole,” he said.
In 2017 a community charrette brainstormed other possible uses for a restored stadium, he noted.
“We identified that marine and boating-related uses were key to the success of the stadium going forward. Sports and fitness made great sense for the stadium going forward. Educational uses and nature made great sense … Community events and obviously entertainment as well,” said Mr. Heisenbottle.
He said community events could include sailing regattas, jet ski races, swimming competitions, kayaking, trail jogging, some limited boat racing, exhibit games, drone races, Fourth of July celebrations, religious and political events, weddings, graduations, water shows and more.
Mr. Worth also talked about the future of the stadium, which originally hosted crowds attending high-powered boat races on the basin.
Mr. Worth began: “I think the economic feasibility issue is really the number one threshold issue right now. When people have objections to the stadium, they usually bring that up. Some individuals have suggested that Marine Stadium is a white elephant.
“And it’s true, the Marine Stadium was not financially successful during its 28-year run. This is a legitimate concern, and I’d like to provide some facts to suggest how this thing might work.
“The City of Miami operated the Marine Stadium for 28 years, and I don’t believe that government and municipalities can run businesses, whether that’s a restaurant, a hotel or a marine stadium. It’s a precedent.” He said the city operated two other venues – Bayfront Park amphitheater and the Knight Center – and lost money on both until bringing in a professional manager to run them.
“The stadium is a very complex building and there are very few organizations that can run it. And you wonder, is anyone interested in running this? … I can tell you the answer is yes, because the city issued both a request for letters of interest and they actually did an RFP (request for proposals) several years ago that they had to void for technical reasons (but) several capable and experienced firms responded with a great deal of enthusiasm,” Mr. Worth said.
He said he’s spent 13 years talking with promoters and event organizations and executives, brought in the best entertainment executives with national and international reputations to see the stadium “and I have to tell you their jaws dropped.”
He added, “While we know there is a whole range of things that can be done there … we know that right out of the box, the thing that is going to make money for this place is concerts.”
Mr. Worth said, “Stepping back, I see the stadium as one of the great venues in the world … I am more optimistic than ever that we can do it (restoration) but we’re really going to need everyone’s help.”
Mr. Worth encouraged everyone to get in touch with city commissioners and advocate moving forward to complete restoration.