Miami-Dade County

Miami to borrow $45 million to restore historic Marine Stadium

The interior of the Miami Marine Stadium
The interior of the Miami Marine Stadium PATRICK FARRELL MIAMI HERALD

Miami commissioners voted Thursday to borrow up to $45 million to restore historic Marine Stadium, pushing the city as close as it’s ever been to starting a project that has been batted around for years.

By a 3-0 vote, with Frank Carollo and Francis Suarez away from the dais, commissioners allowed the city’s administration to fund a roughly $37 million revamp of the iconic-but-shuttered Virginia Key venue and pay for a 35,000-square-foot maritime center by issuing special obligation bonds. The projects may become part of a larger revamp of the barrier island now that the city is bringing back a failed proposal to redevelop its two marinas next to the stadium.

“This is round two,” said Daniel Rotenberg, Miami’s director of real estate.

For Marine Stadium, it’s more like round three.

Now in his lame-duck year, Mayor Tomás Regalado has tried since he was first elected to revitalize the concrete stadium where thousands once watched speedboat races and Jimmy Buffet concerts. The waterfront venue has been shuttered since Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida in 1992, but previous efforts to allow a nonprofit group to redevelop the campus and fund renovations as part of a larger $275 million tax-backed bond issue were shot down by commissioners.

There are still issues outstanding: Administrators say they continue to negotiate a contract for stadium design with architect Richard Heisenbottle, and it remains unclear whether Miami will hire a private operator to run the venue. But with money now available to pursue renovations — expected to cost the city $3 million in annual bond payments over 25 years — historians and proponents of the project saw Thursday’s vote as a major step forward.

“This is a great day for Miami Marine Stadium and for the millions of people in South Florida who love this important place,” said Stephanie Meeks, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Meeks said Thursday’s vote “represents the critical financial commitment needed to bring the stadium back to life as the focal point of Virginia Key.”

The "Save Your Seat" fundraiser for Miami Marine Stadium launched on Thursday, July 7, 2016. Three hundred limited-edition wooden armchairs dating back to 1963 are on sale for $500 a pop, historical value included.

Indeed, the stadium is only part of a larger overhaul of a portion of the city-owned barrier island, particularly the area north of the Rickenbacker Causeway. The city recently spent $18 million to create an outdoor event space on the island to host the Miami International Boat Show, and is looking to partner with a design firm to finally create a multipurpose park promised as part of the expense.

Administrators are also bringing back a new iteration of a controversial plan commissioners rejected over the summer to seek developers to redesign, rebuild and run two marinas along the Marine Stadium Basin.

Intending to seek voter approval for a long-term marina lease agreement next November, Rotenberg said his office hopes to issue a new competitive solicitation for the Rickenbacker and Marine Stadium marinas before the new year. This time around, Rotenberg says his office will bend over backward to seek public input and avoid the issues that plagued its previous attempt to partner with marina operator RCI on a $100 million redo.

The drive to bring back the redevelopment project comes after real estate consultant CBRE studied the risks and rewards of the city pursuing the project itself and in a report published last month found significant risk for costs overruns. Commissioners had wondered whether the city could pursue a redevelopment on its own.

“If we do this ourselves, we would be well over $100 million,” said Rotenberg.

In other news Thursday, commissioners voted to reassign a lease from the current group that owns the Jungle Island theme park on Watson Island to new owner ESJ Capital Partners. They punted a decision on a controversial Design District parking garage to Jan. 26.