It’s official. The Miami Open is moving from Key Biscayne to Hard Rock Stadium in 2019. And though the scenery from the turnpike isn’t as picturesque as sailboats bobbing on turquoise water alongside the Rickenbacker Causeway, tournament officials promise the new site will “enhance every aspect” of the player and fan experience.
With the move, the 32-year-old tennis tournament trades its lush, tropical island home for a much larger, fancier, state-of-the-art facility in Miami Gardens replete with more courts, double the parking, double the suites, plush amenities for the players, and easier access for fans in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
“This has been a long, arduous journey of highs and lows, but the bottom line is that the Miami Open is staying in Miami, and we couldn’t be more excited about our new home,” WME and IMG president Mark Shapiro told the Herald on Tuesday afternoon, hours after the Miami-Dade County Commission approved the event’s departure from its present site.
“We love Key Biscayne. We’ve had an incredible stay there. It’s been one of the greatest sporting tournaments in the world. But the truth is, we outgrew it. We were willing to spend a lot of money — millions of dollars — to enhance the venue with the accoutrements both the fans and players needed; but the city wasn’t willing to play ball with us. So, while we entertained offers from other cities, internationally and in the U.S., we love Miami. It’s always been the gateway to Latin America, giving fans and sponsors a different vibe than any other professional tennis tournament, so it was priority No. 1 to stay home.”
Shapiro said IMG and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross will spend “upwards of $60 million” to build “a full-time tennis, entertainment center” on the parking lots adjacent to the stadium. He assured it will be ready on time. “Stephen Ross doesn’t miss a deadline,” he said. Some of the highlights of the new site:
General admission parking more than doubles from 2,500 spaces to 5,166. Premium parking increases from 2,043 to 3,061. And there are 10 times as many overflow spots – from 904 to 9,232.
The new site will have 30 courts — 29 of them permanent — compared to 21 at the Crandon Park Tennis Center. Practice courts double from nine to 18 and will include 5,700 seats for fan viewing. Lighted courts increase from six to 20.
A 14,000-seat Center Court, for marquee matches, will be inside the stadium, atop the field, with screens covering the unused stands. A 5,000-seat permanent Grandstand court will include player lounge, locker rooms and a gym.
There will be 50 suites — 26 permanent and 24 temporary — compared to 26 at Crandon.
Players will be pampered with 30,000 square feet of dining space (more than triple what they have now), a 10,000 square-foot gym (more than triple the size of the current space), 17,000 square feet of locker space and triple the lounge space.
There will be three video boards — the largest one 40 feet tall by 90 feet wide — and a hospitality village with concessions, retail, and music and art exhibits that will also be used during Dolphins and University of Miami football games, soccer matches, and concerts.
“The experience is what people are looking for, and we have the land to do a lot of things, transportation and parking are easier, everyone wins,” said Ross, reached in Hawaii. “We will landscape it so it will look like a Florida paradise, a five-star resort. The main thing is, we kept it in Miami.”
The last Miami Open on Key Biscayne is March 21-April 1, 2018.
“The Miami Open has been a part of Miami’s culture for as long as I can remember and it’s a tournament that is very special to me and my family,” said 23-time Grand Slam Champion Serena Williams. “I’ve enjoyed some of my best career moments in Miami. ... I am thrilled the Miami Open is staying in Miami, where it belongs.”
For a long time, the Key Biscayne event was nicknamed “the Fifth Grand Slam” and set the bar tour-wide. The players voted it Tournament of the Year six out of seven years, but the last time Miami won the award was 2008.
The past three years, the award went to the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, where Oracle founder Larry Ellison has poured $200 million into the event since buying it for $100 million in 2009. Players have come to expect that level of VIP treatment at every venue.
Butch Buchholz, the founder and longtime director of the Miami Open before retiring two years ago, said last spring that he strongly preferred the event stay in its present home, but the Ross plan is a better alternative than losing the tournament to another city.
“The No. 1 priority has to be to keep the tournament in Miami. The players and fans love coming here, and it is a jewel in our community. If they can get the improvements done on Key Biscayne that they need to do to keep up with other top tournaments, that would be the best scenario. ... Otherwise, “the Dolphins option would be welcome. Thank goodness we’d have Steve Ross, who would do things first-class, if it comes to that.”
It has come to that.