The long campaign to resurrect one of South Florida’s least-seen architectural gems, the shuttered Miami Marine Stadium, is getting a turbo boost from one of the town’s most recognizable figures: Songstress, entrepreneur and — did you know this? — preservationist Gloria Estefan.
Estefan has agreed to be the public face of a new national campaign to raise the stadium’s profile and help activists raise the millions of dollars needed to renovate the historic, city-owned structure, closed since 1992. Though in disrepair and slathered in graffiti, the 1963 stadium on Virginia Key, with its dramatically suspended, folded-concrete roof, is now widely regarded as a design and engineering marvel with no equivalent in the world.
Estefan, who played on the stadium’s famous floating barge in the mid-1980s with the Miami Sound Machine just as they were achieving worldwide fame with Dr. Beat and Conga, called it “magical’’ and “an amazing piece of architecture” that should be restored to a central place in the city’s cultural landscape.
“We are a very young city, but we’ve been here long enough to have a history, and it behooves us to save places like this,’’ Estefan said in an interview with The Miami Herald. “I’ve been around the world, and there is nothing like this anywhere that I’ve been.’’
The daringly innovative, raw-concrete stadium also stands as a signal contribution of Cuban exiles to their adoptive city, said Estefan, who arrived in Miami as a toddler. The building was designed by a young, newly arrived exile, Hilario Candela, who went on to become one of Miami’s leading architects. Candela collaborated with engineer Jack Meyer.
The campaign will be coordinated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which has designated the stadium as one of 34 “National Treasures’’ in need of saving, along with the quake-damaged National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and the hospital complex on Ellis Island.
Estefan, who joined the organization’s board of trustees in November, has long played a side role as a preservation-minded developer along with her husband, producer and businessman Emilio Estefan. The couple undertook restorations of the Art Deco Cardozo Hotel on Ocean Drive in Miami Beach, a 1920s Mediterranean building on Lincoln Road Mall and, more recently, a mid-Century Modern hotel in Vero Beach.
The campaign comes at a critical juncture in local activists’ five-year effort to restore the marine stadium, which sits at the edge of a large artificial basin off the Rickenbacker Causeway in Biscayne Bay. A nonprofit group, Friends of the Miami Marine Stadium, is awaiting a long-delayed vote by the city commission on a much-vetted plan it developed for the facility’s resuscitation.
Under the plan, the group would have two years to raise most of the estimated $30 million needed for renovation privately, and the stadium and a proposed waterfront park and marine museum and exhibition center next to it would be operated without public subsidy. But the vote has been put off as the group and the city hammer out a complicated legal agreement to allay concerns by some commissioners over awarding the contract to the Friends group without competitive bidding.