Miami-Dade County

Miami floats new plans to restore Marine Stadium

Six months after rejecting a private pitch to restore the historic Miami Marine Stadium, the city of Miami may be ready to move forward with its own vision.

The plan, to be presented by administrators Thursday to city commissioners, would keep the concrete, waterfront stadium and the surrounding campus under the city’s thumb but cede daily operations to a private operator willing to pay millions up front for a contract. Meanwhile, the city will continue to build an $18 million park and event space on the stadium grounds, and seek to revitalize the entire area by building a mooring field in the placid waters of the Marine Stadium Basin and constructing new marina facilities on Virginia Key.

In a Friday memo, City Manager Daniel Alfonso wrote that the plan “would collectively serve to completely reenergize and revitalize the entire area from what is currently a collection of moderately successful ventures into a tourist destination and draw.”

According to Alfonso, the city is ready to begin the competitive process of seeking an architecture and engineering firm to design a stadium restoration, once the commission approves. Commissioners would also need to establish a governing body of appointed, volunteer members to oversee the land, and sign off on plans to hire an operator or third-party manager to hire performers and other private groups wishing to use the once-popular stadium for events.

The price tag for stadium renovations is about $37.8 million, with Alfonso expecting grants, donations, historic tax credits and the stadium’s private operator to foot half the bill. Late last month, the city became eligible to seek up to $6 million in tax credits when the National Trust for Historic Preservation began the months-long process of seeking approval to put the stadium on the National Register of Historic Places.

“I’m glad the city is finally moving forward,” said Don Worth, a historian and former member of the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium group, which failed to gain support for its own stadium restoration plan.

The graffiti-tagged stadium where boat races and rock concerts were held has been shuttered since Hurricane Andrew blew into town in 1992. The Friends group — which would remain part of the governing body in the city’s new plans — tried for years to raise capital to fund a stadium restoration. In November, they proposed a $121 million plan to restore the stadium, build a marine expo center and dry boat storage with private money and build an outdoor event space to host, among other events, the Miami International Boat Show.

Their no-bid plan imploded amid scrutiny, and the commission chose to negotiate directly with the Boat Show’s parent company and move forward with their own restoration vision. For now, the Boat Show is operating on a year-to-year license agreement crafted in order to avoid a city requirement that waterfront leases go to a voter referendum.

The city’s efforts have been somewhat bumpy as well, with the nearby Village of Key Biscayne suing both the city and the Boat Show’s parent company over plans to host the President’s Day Weekend event — and possibly scores more — on the one road in and out of the tony island. On Thursday, lawyers representing the Village will be at the commission meeting to appeal plans to build the $18 million park and event space.

Miami Commissioner Francis Suarez, among the biggest proponents of a stadium renovation, said that ongoing legal battle might complicate the city’s plans to seek a private operator, given questions about what kinds of events can be held at the stadium. Alfonso wrote in his memo that an operator would work through a 30-year lease with $2.5 million paid up front, plus base rent and a percentage of sales to the city.

“I don’t know how you’re going to [seek bids] for an operator when you don’t have that resolved,” Suarez said.

Suarez also questioned whether the city can truly find half the money for the project from philanthropic sources. But he said there are aspects he likes.

“It’s a jewel,” he said. “And we ought to save it.”

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