Surfer, author, environmentalist, budding new-media mogul, Margaritaville impresario and sometime musician Jimmy Buffett is on the phone, spinning out some not totally improbable ideas for the kind of events a revived Miami Marine Stadium might host.
Suffice to say it involves a melange of concerts live-streamed around the world and “hot chicks in bikinis’’ racing on stand-up paddleboards around the stadium’s oval watercourse, sponsorship by Budweiser. And, come to think of it, gay guys on paddleboards, too, why not? All demographics welcome.
“I have my shameless promoter hat on now,’’ Buffett says, laughing as he exercises his fertile imagination on behalf of his latest cause: Helping to bring the iconic but weatherworn, graffiti-covered stadium on Virginia Key back to life after a prolonged dormancy of more than 20 years.
Buffett’s in league with another Miami musical icon, singer Gloria Estefan, the official face of a campaign to resuscitate the publicly owned stadium, which just turned 50 and is widely regarded as a cultural and architectural treasure.
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Concerts at the marine stadium marked signal moments in the early careers of both stars, and they’re repaying the favor with a joint appearance Thursday at a sold-out fundraiser for the rescue effort at the Coral Gables Museum. After a talk-show-style Q&A with Estefan and NBC6 anchor Jackie Nespral as host, Buffett will do a few tunes with longtime steel-drum accompanist Robert Greenidge.
“The marine stadium was a pretty special place, and Miami’s always been great to me, so why not?’’ Buffett said, speaking from his Palm Beach County home. “I’m in the fun business and things that make people happy. The first time I played it, I fell in love with it. How could you not? You’re on a floating stage surrounded by people in boats, and those incredible sunsets. It was such a unique place to play in.”
The event comes as the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which has added the facility to its list of American architectural treasures in need of saving, and Friends of Miami Marine Stadium, get set to formally launch a $30 million fundraising campaign to restore and reopen the stadium, which closed in 1992.
It also precedes the final weekend of the Gables museum’s multi-media exhibit on the stadium, “Concrete Paradise,” which traces its design and history as a venue for speedboat racing, religious services and performances by stars like Buffett, Pat Boone, Ray Charles, the Who and jazz great Dave Brubeck. The exhibit also documents its improvised present as graffiti canvas through photos and videos, one of which shows daring skateboarders on the stadium’s dramatic, creased roof. Admissions will be two-for-one, and a drawing will be held for a private tour of the stadium with its architect, Hilario Candela.
The city of Miami closed the money-losing stadium after claiming it was damaged by Hurricane Andrew, but subsequent engineering studies have concluded the grandstand and the vast, overhanging roof are fundamentally sound.
The city commission last year approved a plan by the nonprofit Friends group that would reopen the stadium as a self-sustaining event venue and public park for concerts, exhibitions, rowing regattas and triathlons — provided supporters can raise the money for renovation privately. The only public money would be $3 million from a Miami-Dade County historic-preservation fund.
Buffett and Estefan, both known for their business acumen, said they’re convinced a well run, smartly programmed marine stadium could sustain itself. Both say there is no other place or setting like it in the world.
Estefan, whose video presentation on the stadium helped persuade commissioners to vote yes, said she vividly recalls playing the stadium with the Miami Sound Machine in a Y100 concert just as their first hit, Dr. Beat, was breaking out on radio nationally.
“For us to be at a concert at that place was magical,” she said. “I’m an island girl. The stage was literally an island. It was just a special energy to be performing on the water.”
Buffett played the stadium a bunch of times, including a 1985 show memorialized on the Live by the Bay DVD. Just as it was for Estefan, playing the marine stadium for the first time was a big step up for Buffett, whose biggest show before that had been at a jai-alai fronton.
His most memorable at the marine stadium: the time he jumped from the barge that served as a stage into the scrum of swimmers, boaters and floaters in the water at the end of one especially sweaty performance. He had played two shows, which had been preceded by a 56-piece steel-drum band from Trinidad, the Desperadoes.
“I remember very vividly,” Buffett said. “It was the perfect opening act. It put people in a rather festive mood. It was like being in a water carnival. There was space between the barge and the first seats in the grandstand. There were people swimming in there. It was not out of control exactly, but it was rockin’.
“No one expected that diversified amount of floating objects from large yachts to inner tubes. The size of the crowd in the water was amazing.
“It was also extremely hot. At one point, I told my stage manager, ‘When this thing’s over, take my guitar, because I’m goin’ in.’”
And the rest is Miami Marine Stadium history.