Miami-Dade County

Miami juggles lawsuit, deadlines in Marine Stadium efforts

A rendering of a renovated Miami Marine Stadium, and a $16 million park and event space covered with turf.
A rendering of a renovated Miami Marine Stadium, and a $16 million park and event space covered with turf. MIAMI HERALD

Facing a construction deadline and the potential loss of $3 million, Miami officials tried Thursday to preserve efforts to host the Miami International Boat Show on Virginia Key and restore the historic Marine Stadium without inflaming a legal spat with neighboring Key Biscayne.

By a 4-0 vote, commissioners gave the boat show’s operators more time — about three months — to set up and break down on the stadium grounds, where the massive trade event will be held President’s Day weekend due to a move out of the Miami Beach Convention Center. They also accepted $1.6 million from boat show parent National Marine Manufacturers Association to cover costs for additional upgrades beyond the $16 million the city is already spending to create a paved, utility-lined outdoor event space that can facilitate the show’s main event.

Together, those actions could be interpreted as a deeper commitment between the city and boat show, which is operating on a year-to-year agreement. But several commissioners also indicated Thursday that they’d be willing to walk away from the event after one year if it doesn’t work out, and demanded that the city convert the seven-acre asphalt-covered event space into turf-lined playing fields by mid-March.

“I’m not going to commit beyond a year,” to the boat show, said Commissioner Francis Suarez.

The juggling act at Miami City Hall Thursday was due in part to dueling pressures the city is facing to come up with a plan for stadium renovations, and to avoid potentially costly litigation with the Village of Key Biscayne. Village officials believe Miami is going to lure a host of high-grossing, causeway-clogging events to its new $16 million facility and filed a lawsuit in February seeking to stop the project.

The village’s concerns and lawsuit were on commissioners’ minds as they voted Thursday, with Suarez questioning how they’d react to having three months of boat show set-up and break-down to go along with the event itself. Commissioners also agreed Thursday that a $3 million county grant for stadium renovations would be used only on the stadium. The city was supposed to come up with a plan to spend the grant by April 6, and area County Commissioner Xavier Suarez, father of Francis Suarez, said he’d support a four-month extension on the condition that the money not be used on the event space.

Reached Wednesday, Key Biscayne Mayor Mayra Peña Lindsay said the village supports renovations of the stadium, but the city’s inability to come up with a solid plan is a problem. She called the boat show deal a “bait and switch.”

“My concern is this plan continues to morph. It is not what it seemed in the beginning,” she said.

Just six months ago, it appeared that the boat show was coming to Virginia Key in order to be a long-term anchor tenant whose $1.1 million rent payments would help fund stadium renovations. But an overall stadium revitalization and renovation plan by the non-profit Friends of Miami Marine Stadium, which brokered the initial commitment from the boat show, fell apart amid scrutiny and the city scrambled to sign its own agreement to host the boating event.

A broader, comprehensive plan to renovate the stadium should be presented to Miami commissioners May 14, according to Deputy City Manager Alice Bravo. She said the city is looking at some combination of bond financing, private investment and philanthropic donations. The hiring of a stadium operator should be part of that deal, she said.

Don Worth, a preservationist who worked with the Friends group, told commissioners a comprehensive plan would likely ease some of their problems, particularly with Key Biscayne.

“I just want to see this happen in my lifetime,” he said afterward.