As Hurricane Irma bears down on South Florida, the arenas and stadiums in the region are preparing for the storm.
“Just like at your house, we’re putting stuff away,” said Todd Boyan, the Dolphins’ senior vice president of operations.
“We have to batten down the hatches.”
Of the four professional sports facilities in South Florida, only Marlins Park has yet to stare down a hurricane landfall.
Yet this will also be the first real challenge for a renovated Hard Rock Stadium that didn’t have a canopy covering it the last time a big storm blew through town.
As part of a $500 million rebuild, the shade-bearing canopy is perhaps the biggest concern for the stadium if Irma hits the area.
The partial roof — which is held down by a series of cables — is certified to withstand a Category 4 storm, but Boyan says that while the stadium will have security during the storm, individuals will not shelter there because of the uncertainty of how the canopy will handle potentially extremely high winds.
“This is the first test, obviously,” Boyan said. “We’ll see how it goes. We had structural engineers who designed the canopy, and they’ll be here as soon as it’s safe to get them here. Once the storm clears, we will get a team of people from each discipline who will come to the stadium before we open it back up.
“We have to make sure the property is safe to occupy again. We’re not going to let anyone into the property until we’re confident the shade canopy, as well as the building structure, is safe.
“We believe the shade canopy will do well, but you don’t know until you go through it. This is a major storm.”
The Dolphins’ scheduled home opener against Tampa Bay was moved from Sunday to Nov. 19.
The next sporting event at the stadium is the University of Miami’s home game against Toledo on Sept. 23. The Dolphins play their first two games on the road and don’t return home until the Titans visit on Oct. 8.
Aside from the canopy, staff at Hard Rock Stadium have been busy clearing the many loose items throughout the concourses, parking lot and even the field level in anticipation for the storm.
Tom Garfinkel, the Dolphins’ president and CEO, tweeted out pictures of the 100 and 300 levels of the stadium clear of any potential debris on Wednesday.
The massive cleanup includes garbage cans, furniture, field-level seating and, yes, the goal posts.
“Like everyone else, we have been monitoring this storm since last week,” Boyan said. “We basically began enacting our hurricane plan last weekend. Once we determined there wasn’t a game here Sunday, we began mobilizing and going into action on Wednesday.
“We’re almost done. We cleaned out the concourses, are finishing the parking lots [Thursday].”
AmericanAirlines Arena in downtown Miami was also busy prepping and could face flooding issues from storm surge as it is located off Biscayne Bay.
“The AmericanAirlines Arena is in an evacuation zone, so like the rest of South Florida, we are taking the necessary precautions and watching the storm closely,” read a statement put out by the arena.
“We urge the community to remain vigilant and stay safe before, during and after the storm.”
Preparations at Marlins Park began soon after the Marlins lost to the Washington Nationals 8-1 on Wednesday night with plans to keep parts of the 8,300-ton retractable roof — which is the largest such roof in pro sports — open during the storm to prevent damage to it.
In Broward County, BB&T Center will have a skeleton crew camping out at the arena during the storm with team CEO Matthew Caldwell saying he’ll be on site throughout just in case.
The Sunrise arena suffered minor damage when Hurricane Wilma blew through Broward County in 2005.
“I think the arena will make for a pretty good shelter,” said Caldwell, whose arena’s massive parking lots will again serve as a staging area for emergency crews, as well as cleanup and power trucks that come into the area.
“If anything were to go wrong, I think it’s good we’ll be close and ready to react. We have told Broward County we’re all in for them. Anything they need from us, they’ve got it.”
Sporting events after Irma
▪ Hard Rock Stadium: Miami Hurricanes vs. Toledo Rockets, Sept. 23; Miami Dolphins v. Tennessee Titans, Oct. 8.
▪ AmericanAirlines Arena: Miami Heat vs. Atlanta Hawks (preseason), Oct. 1.
▪ Marlins Park: Miami Marlins vs. Milwaukee Brewers, Sept. 15.
▪ BB&T Center: Florida Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (preseason), Sept. 26.
▪ FIU Riccardo Silva Stadium: Miami FC vs. San Francisco Deltas, Sept. 16; FIU Panthers v. Charlotte 49ers, Sept. 30.