Friends co-founder Don Worth said the group already has $10 million in funding commitments, including $3 million from a county preservation fund, but can’t proceed with full-fledged fundraising without a formal deal.
Estefan’s and the National Trust’s high-profile public backing and acumen, Worth said, should go a long way in cementing confidence in the renovation effort and helping raise money. Estefan said she’s ready to “reach out’’ to city leaders and make public appearances on the group’s behalf.
“To have a champion like Gloria is going to give us a great burst of enthusiasm and energy at a key time,’’ Worth said. “She’s loved and adored by this community and around the world. She’s really a symbol of this community. And she’s smart, focused and kind. We’re ecstatic.’’
To engender public appreciation and support, campaign backers plan to conduct tours of the stadium, which few people except for trespassers or rowers who use the adjacent basin have seen up close in 20 years.
The Coral Gables Museum will also host an exhibit in which curators hope to immerse visitors in the Marine Stadium experience through video, sound, photos and a 3D computer animation based on a scan of the building done by the University of Florida. The exhibit would focus on its years as a popular venue for speedboat races and concerts by artists as diverse as Jimmy Buffett, Ray Charles and Afro-pop superstar Fela, as well as its curious after-life as an ever-changing canvas for graffiti artists.
It would also highlight future plans for its re-use as a multi-purpose facility that would again host concerts, boat races, triathlons and events tied to Art Basel or the annual boat show.
“We want to give life to the idea that we need this building, that not saving it would be like not saving South Beach,’’ said art and architectural conservator Rosa Lowinger, who is curating the exhibition. “We have this fantastic building in our midst, and we are a cultural capital now. The time for this building is now. It could be our Hollywood Bowl and our High Line wrapped into one.’’
The stadium had long been a money-loser in spite of its popularity when the city decided to close it in 1992, citing damage from Hurricane Andrew that later engineering studies concluded was minor. It was slated for demolition when an ad-hoc group of architects and preservationists under the aegis of Dade Heritage Trust persuaded the city to declare it a protected historic landmark and give them a chance to develop an economically viable plan to reopen it.
Engineering studies since then concluded the stadium and its grandstand, which sits on pilings over the water, are in remarkably good shape and structurally sound, though they requires repairs to support columns and beams as well as new plumbing, electrical systems, lighting, sound systems, seating and bathrooms.
Estefan said the marine stadium immediately jumped to the fore as she and Coral Gables architect Jorge Hernandez, also a National Trust board member and a Friends group co-founder, discussed possible preservation projects for her to get involved in.
That she made the right choice was confirmed when she took along her high-school-age daughter, Emily, to a recent photo shoot at the stadium. As a boating family, she said, the Estefans have cruised by the stadium many times.
But nothing can beat the view from the grandstand — the water and a nature preserve across from it with the downtown Miami skyline as a backdrop, under the cooling shade of the roof, Estefan said.
“She went in there and she flipped,’’ Estefan said. “There is such an energy there. A lot of people don’t even know it’s there. We want to get it in the public eye. Once they’re aware of it, people will want to keep this place.’’