Miami-Dade County

Is city ready to fulfill broken pledge for ‘world-class’ park at Miami Marine Stadium?

A drone view of the Miami International Boat Show on Virginia Key, Feb. 12, 2016. The old Marine Stadium is near the center of the frame, with Brickell's skyline in the background.
A drone view of the Miami International Boat Show on Virginia Key, Feb. 12, 2016. The old Marine Stadium is near the center of the frame, with Brickell's skyline in the background.

Almost a year after the city of Miami hurriedly spent $18 million to accommodate the Miami International Boat Show at the historic Miami Marine Stadium’s vast parking lot, administrators said they will seek to hire a “world-class” design firm to develop a blueprint for a long-promised public “flex-park” at the site.

The work, which included substantial utility work, has left behind a much-criticized asphalt moonscape designed to support the boat show’s temporary exhibition tents — and not the seven-acre, artificial-turf park and soccer field that the city had promised to open a month after the trade event ended in February. The broken pledge prompted a complaint of a “bait-and-switch” by the city from a Miami commissioner.

But City Manager Daniel Alfonso said the city is now ready to plan the promised park properly. It plans to issue a request for qualifications from urban-design and landscape architecture firms to develop a plan for a flexible open space than can accommodate both special events like the boat show, which has a year-to-year deal with the city to use the stadium site, and public recreational activities.

First Alfonso wants the city’s new Virginia Key Advisory Board, formed in part because of criticism over the city’s handling of the Marine Stadium site, to review the 13-page RFQ document. Board members received copies during their monthly meeting this week, but said they needed more time to consider it and scheduled a one-hour public workshop for Oct. 25.

“There was some discussion, but I really pushed hard to make sure the public has an opportunity to weigh in on what’s going into the RFQ before it’s issued,” said board member Blanca Mesa. “This is an important piece of public property. It’s on an island in the middle of an aquatic preserve. Everyone is in agreement that it can’t stay as an asphalt parking lot, but what are we going to do about that?”

The hope, Alfonso said in a brief interview Thursday, is to identify a firm that could produce a plan for what he called “an urban hardscape” on the Marine Stadium’s 15 acres of parking lots that would fulfill the city’s public pledge. The RFQ does not include the stadium itself. The city earlier this year selected the firm of Coral Gables preservation specialist Richard Heisenbottle to develop a design for the stadium’s renovation.

The city has identified only a portion of the estimated $37 million cost of renovating the stadium, which has been shuttered since 1992 but was designated as protected historic site by the city in 2008. Alfonso said the city’s new budget includes about $1 million for the flex-park, though he said he doesn’t yet know what the design contract would cost.

The timing of the RFQ issuance and its details, Alfonso said, “will depend on what the advisory board says.”

The RFQ document sets out broad goals for what it calls Miami Marine Park, including development of flexible open space, public waterfront access, “active and passive family recreational opportunities” and development of a baywalk along the edge of the statium’s water basin.

A short introduction calls for “a strategy to turn this flexible open space into a distinctive and memorable place with regional importance,” adding: “A place suitable for individual recreation, or massive congregation. A place worthy of Miami.”

The document then has several pages with photos and renderings of urban by some top-shelf design firms in cities ranging from Toronto and New York to Tampa and San Diego.

The city’s plans for the site, first laid out by a master plan for Virginia Key approved a decade ago, have been embroiled in controversy for years. Some critics, including residents and public officials in neighboring Key Biscayne, fear the city plans to use the site, which sits along the Rickenbacker Causeway, for massive special events that would affect access to their island. The village of Key Biscayne has sued to block redevelopment of the stadium site.

Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra Lindsey said Thursday that Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado told her the previous evening about the forthcoming RFQ, but added she had not seen it yet and wanted to reserve comment until she had.

“It will be interesting,” she predicted. “As we all know, the devil’s in the details.”

A previous version of this story had the wrong date for the Virginia Key Advisory Board workshop.