Miami-Dade County

City taps team to design Miami Marine Stadium renovation

The current state of the Miami Marine Stadium
The current state of the Miami Marine Stadium MIAMI HERALD

Miami city administrators have tapped a team led by one of Florida’s top preservation architects to design the renovation of the Miami Marine Stadium, marking a rare concrete step towards the long-promised reopening of the shuttered landmark.

The Coral Gables firm of Richard Heisenbottle, responsible for the restoration of Miami City Hall and the ornate Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center, beat out two other teams competing for the job and is negotiating a contract, which will be covered by a $1 million state grant.

The Heisenbottle team, which includes nationally prominent engineering, landscape and theatrical consultants, would evaluate the 1963 stadium and design all improvements needed to reopen it as a multi-purpose venue, ranging from structural repairs to seating and lighting and sound systems. The team also includes the stadium’s original designer, Hilario Candela, as a special consulting architect.

“Everyone on this team is exceptionally qualified,” Heisenbottle said. “We really found the best.”

Heisenbottle’s selection doesn’t mean the city is close to undertaking the long-delayed stadium renovation, which is a top goal of Mayor Tomás Regalado’s administration but has taken a back seat to other priorities, including the move of the Miami boat show to the facility’s Virginia Key grounds. The city has yet to identify the bulk of the financing for the estimated $37 million renovation, has not developed an operational plan, and has put off a plan to convert the stadium grounds into a “flex-park” as part of the improvements for the boat show.

But preservationists hope the successful conclusion of the boat show’s first edition at the stadium earlier this year and the architect selection will put the project on the front burner.

The city is also looking at a second promising proposal. On Thursday, the city commission will be asked to bless a plan by beermaker Heineken to launch a crowdfunding campaign to defray the estimated $100,000 cost of removing the stadium’s 2,000 broken-down metal-and-plastic seats. Details will not be final until late May, said Jason Clement of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a longtime backer of the stadium renovation which would co-sponsor the campaign.

One idea is to save some of the seats to auction off to people who might want to own a piece of Miami history, backers told the city historic preservation board last week. Artists could be commissioned to turn some into artworks. Already one chair, turned into a sculpture by a local artist, found a buyer in singer Gloria Estefan, a key backer of the stadium restoration effort.

“These seats have soul, they really do,” preservationist Don Worth told the preservation board, which unanimously backed Heineken’s project.

Worth says interest in the stadium by Heineken and American Express, which is underwriting an $80,000 engineering study of the stadium’s landside support columns, is encouraging because corporate support will be critical in getting the facility open and operating.

But Worth and other preservationists are leery of another potential stumbling block. As part of a plan to remake two adjacent publicly owned marinas, the city wants to expand wet slips into the stadium’s basin — a step critics say would impinge into the historically designated facility and block any powerboat races. That could also endanger potential state grants, they say.

The marina proposal was also scheduled to go to commission on Thursday, but the vote has been postponed by the city administration.

Once the site of powerboat races, civic and religious celebrations and popular concerts by stars ranging from Ray Charles to Jimmy Buffett and Estefan’s Miami Sound Machine, the stadium was closed by the city after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Since then, the raw-concrete structure with its vast overhanging roof has gained worldwide recognition as a unique architectural and engineering achievement.

Candela, who designed it along with the late engineer Jack Meyer, has been a key figure in the eight-year effort to save the stadium. But he also came under fire for his participation in a plan by a nonprofit group he helped lead, Friends of the Miami Marine Stadium, to bring the boat show to the facility’s grounds as a way to finance the stadium renovation. Though the city commission adopted the boat-show plan, it pushed out the friends group amid doubts over its financial plan and a proposal to pay Candela to help design the renovation.

Still, Heisenbottle said he felt strongly that he could use Candela’s knowledge of the structure in designing its resuscitation.

“I though it important to invite him. He has that intimate knowledge of the building,” Heisenbottle said. “Very often, I would love to have the original architect next to me when I’m working on any one of these historic buildings.”