For the first time in more than 20 years, a national performer made a grand entrance Thursday at dilapidated Miami Marine Stadium. But Gloria Estefan — 84-foot yacht, entourage and all — was only the opening act.
The true headliners of Thursday’s event were the stadium itself and representatives of the Miami International Boat Show, who during a press conference amid the stadium’s torn out seats and shattered beer bottles formally announced intentions to hold the massive tourist draw at the graffiti-covered Virginia Key venue in 2016 and 2017. They also acknowledged they’re “exploring the site as a long-term home” away from Miami Beach.
The massive boat show, which says it attracts 100,000 boaters and generates $600 million in economic activity every Presidents’ Day weekend, would be the concrete waterfront stadium’s first tenant since Hurricane Andrew slammed its doors shut in 1992. With a multi-year deal, the show would also be a solid anchor for a $30 million stadium restoration project by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Friends of Miami Marine Stadium, which are pursuing a long-term lease with the city.
“They really could not have come at a better time for us,” Estefan, a trustee of the national preservation organization and stadium booster, said Thursday. “We were given a mandate by commissioners to make sure that No. 1, we were able to get to our $30 million mark.”
Estefan and preservationists have been working for years to restore the 1960s venue, which was designed by Friends co-founder Hilario Candela. The venue hosted speed boat races and concerts, including a performance from Estefan’s Miami Sound Machine, and is today considered a gem of modern architecture despite the damage endured from Andrew and years of neglect.
The boat show announcement comes just weeks ahead of a city-imposed deadline for a long-term lease of the stadium. The Friends group, through a 2012 agreement with the city’s quasi-independent Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority (MSEA), was given until Jan. 20 to prove it had a solid plan for the stadium and surrounding 22 city-owned acres, and viable finances.
Though the not-for-profit organization says it has only $19 million in projected donations and income, boosters believe that will be enough to convince Miami commissioners to vote in favor of lease negotiations next Thursday, and in favor of a new deal in December. Language in the expiring memorandum of understanding agreement is vague about the requirements of Friends in order to secure a new deal.
“There’s not a lot of detail as to a finish line for those efforts and there’s no detail for what happens at the end of the period,” said Deputy City Manager Alice Bravo, who is leading a review of the group’s plans and finances.
The deal between the city, MSEA and Friends group is crucial for the boat show, which has signed a letter of intent to move to Marine Stadium. The boat show, meanwhile, figures to be important for a new deal with the city, given the potential it brings for annual revenues that net Miami Beach above a half-million dollars annually.
A pending agreement would appear to already have the support of Miami commissioners, three of whom spoke at Thursday’s event about the importance of the effort to save the stadium. “There is no parallel to this,” said Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who represents Virginia Key.
Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, said boat show organizers are excited about hosting the event on Virginia Key, and could stay there far into the future depending on the outcome of renovations to the show’s current home at the Miami Beach Convention Center.
Dammrich, whose organization owns the show, said he expects attendance to be up in 2016 at the stadium, where boats will be displayed upland in a renovated park and there will be plenty of parking. He said the organization is waiting to see how renovations of the Miami Beach Convention Center pan out, but would consider remaining at the stadium past 2017.
The show is still hosting its various satellite events, and Miami Beach will continue to host the yacht and brokerage show on the Indian Creek Waterway.
“I think we’ll be here beyond ’16 and ’17. The boat show has always been a multi-venue event,” he said. “We’re going to be working both with the convention center and Marine Stadium to make sure we have a venue that will support this very important show.”