Five weeks before their first home preseason game, the Dolphins’ Miami Gardens stadium still looks like a full-blown construction site.
The seats are in place, but the field is dirt.
The walls are up in the posh new clubs, but with little else.
Still, Tom Garfinkel — the team CEO and driving force behind the two-year modernization plan — is confident that the hard deadline for the stadium to be usable, Aug. 29, will be met.
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More than 1,000 construction workers are logging 10-hour days, even on Saturdays and Sundays, to make it happen.
But as Phase 1 of the two-year renovation project winds down, the Dolphins are candid that Sun Life Stadium will not be a finished product during the exhibition season.
“There will still be some ‘Pardon our dust’ signs up for the preseason games, but we’re very focused on the operational aspects to make sure everybody has a great experience,” Garfinkel told the Miami Herald this week. “And obviously, as we get to the first regular-season game, we’ll be 100 percent, ready to go.”
So what to expect for the two preseason games? The essentials will be in place. All the seats will be in. The bathrooms will be open. The previously existing concession stands will be available. The grass will be ready. The audio and video components will be fully functional.
But some of the high-end frills might not be available until the unofficial relaunch, which comes in Week 3 of the regular season.
Some of the new food options — and there will be many — might not go live until September. Plenty of work on the new bars and clubs, which will have the glossy feel of the Soho House, remain. And the floors might still be a bit of an eyesore; those are the last upgrades to go in.
That construction timeline means there could still be a few loose ends when the Miami Hurricanes, the Dolphins’ primary tenant, open the season Sept. 5 against Bethune-Cookman.
The dynamic between UM and the Dolphins has been a topic of much debate in recent months, particularly when outgoing president Donna Shalala met with David Beckham in May about possibly partnering on a football-soccer stadium.
But little, if anything, ever came of those meetings. The Dolphins have a lucrative 25-year contract with the university, and expect to host Hurricanes games for years to come.
The good news for Hurricane fans who are unhappy with playing in Sun Life: They will have an essentially new facility — whose price tag is now more than $425 million and still growing — with no new costs for the program.
The Dolphins promised a new seating bowl, upgraded concourses and unique luxury seating options for the 2015 regular season, and Garfinkel is confident the team will deliver on schedule.
After the coming season, Phase 2 of the privately funded project will begin. That’s when the shade canopy goes up and the scoreboards are replaced. Then in 2017, the parking lots will be redone, with tunnels and bridges planned to help keep the pedestrian traffic away from the vehicular.
In recasting the seating bowl, the Dolphins dropped capacity from 75,000 to 65,000, moved the stands closer to the field, and put more seats in the lower bowl while eliminating thousands in the upper deck.
Many of the best tickets have long been sold. The new ’72 Club has been gone for months. All but one of the new high-end “Nine” suites are spoken for, as are all of the field club boxes.
And though some single-game tickets remain, Garfinkel said he expects all seven regular-season home games at Sun Life to sell out. (The eighth “home” game — Oct. 4 against the Jets — will be played in London.)
That strong demand doesn’t fit the national narrative, particularly in light of a study from Emory University that named Dolphins fans the worst in the NFL. The project factored in 15 years’ worth of attendance, ticket prices and team revenues to rank each team, from 1 to 32.
No question, the team has struggled at times to connect with South Floridians. Its television ratings are among the worst in the league. And in 2012, the team ranked 29th in attendance (57,379) and last in percent of available tickets sold (76.3).
But the Dolphins jumped to 14th in attendance last year, with a 22 percent increase in tickets sold over 2012.
“What I see in this fan base is a generational fan base with a deep, emotional connection to this team,” Garfinkel said. “What I see right now is a lot of enthusiasm in the market. I think, right now, we’re at roughly the same number of season tickets where we ended last season with. … I see a very strong, connected fan base.”