City Commission vote to determine fate of historic Miami Marine Stadium

07/10/2013 6:12 PM

07/11/2013 8:16 AM

The fate of the iconic but dilapidated Miami Marine Stadium could come down to a vote at City Hall on Thursday, when commissioners will consider a nonprofit group’s ambitious plan to renovate and expand the long-shuttered public facility.

The commission is set to vote on the scope of city property to be turned over to the control of Friends of the Miami Marine Stadium. Approval would set in motion an oft-delayed plan by the group to raise $30 million to renovate the historic stadium grandstand and reopen it as a multi-purpose venue for concerts, boat races, sailing regattas, triathlons and community events.

The group, which is not seeking city funding for the effort, plans to build what leaders describe as small-scale development, including a marine exhibition center, on a portion of the stadium parking lot to help support the facility’s operations. To do so, the Friends group is seeking control over the entire 12-acre stadium site at Virginia Key on the Rickenbacker Causeway, including the entrance plaza and the parking lot area, most of which would be converted into a park.

The commission narrowly approved an agreement more than a year ago to lease the land to the Friends group without seeking bids, but a vote on the extent of land to be turned over has been delayed amid continued concerns raised by some activists and two dissenting commissioners, Frank Carollo and Michelle Spence-Jones.

The Friends plan has been endorsed by Mayor Tomás Regalado, who has made renovation of the stadium a centerpiece of his administration, as well as City Manager Johnny Martinez and a 13-member task force led by the city’s planning director, Francisco Garcia.

“We’re just trying to do a good thing,’’ said Miami architect and Friends co-founder Jorge Hernandez, who as a board member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation has helped bring the quest to save the stadium to national prominence. “We want to make it a destination water park for the city of Miami.’’

Earlier this year, the National Trust launched a campaign featuring singer Gloria Estefan in support of the stadium’s resuscitation. Though Estefan cannot make Thursday’s hearing, she provided a video statement to show at the meeting, Hernandez said. Estefan also helped lobby commissioners.

Martinez and leaders of the Friends group say the plan requires use of the full stadium property to be financially viable. Friends co-founder Don Worth has said the group already has $10 million in funding commitments, including $3 million from a Miami-Dade County preservation fund, but can’t proceed with detailed plans or full-fledged fundraising without a finalized deal for the site.

Under the agreement, the Friends group would have two years to raise the balance of the money for renovation. The stadium would be operated without public subsidy.

The group was launched five years ago to save the stadium, which the city closed down after it was damaged by Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and intended to demolish for redevelopment. Though extensively vandalized and covered in ever-changing graffiti, the 50-year-old raw-concrete stadium is now widely considered an architectural and engineering gem unique to Miami.

Friends leaders persuaded the city to designate the stadium, which engineering studies determined remains fundamentally sound, as a protected historic site, and developed a plan to resuscitate it.

To bypass competitive bids required under rules for leases of public waterfront property, the city designated the semi-autonomous Sports and Exhibition Authority as the stadium’s landlord. That prompted complaints of a giveaway of public land.

But Hernandez said the city charter does not require bids in the case of nonprofit groups that intend to provide public access for water-dependent uses. Also, the 1963 deed for the land created for the facility, most of which consists of fill, requires the land be used solely for the stadium, he said.

“We’ve been at this for five years, and we have done things by the book as stipulated all along the way,’’ Hernandez said.

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