Irma brings Miami Marine Stadium to mind

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Norm Schultz

It’s been a rough weekend in Florida, thanks to Hurricane Irma. But our evacuating to the Panhandle was a good idea, and some friends tell us our home survived fine. So we’ll head back to St. Pete later today.

But a steady diet of Irma reports for days has really reminded me of some good news about the venerable Miami Marine Stadium, a victim of another hurricane. The good news is that restoration plans for this one-of-a-kind structure are getting close to reality, and that’s good for several reasons.

The stadium is on Virginia Key, now home of the Progressive Miami International Boat Show. Although local groups have worked over the years to bring back the stadium, the real momentum now can be attributable to the boat show being relocated to this site, resulting in widespread attention to restoring this iconic structure.

During its heyday thousands were drawn to the 6,566-seat stadium to see powerboat races; big-name concerts by the likes of Jimmy Buffett; the filming of the Elvis Presley movie “Clambake”; even Easter sunrise services and much more. Hundreds of boats would surround the floating stage to enjoy the festivities.

I attended hydroplane races there in 1968. Being in the stadium was authentic Miami. Then, in 1992, another hurricane, this one named Andrew, devastated the Miami area and shuttered the stadium.

The all-concrete edifice was designed by a 27-year-old Cuban-born architect, Hilario Candela. When it was built in 1963 its remarkable 326-foot, fold-plate roof was the longest span of cantilevered concrete on earth!

It’s still a masterwork of civic architecture and construction, now surrounded by an incredible boat show each February. And although there’s no access to the stadium right now, there is little doubt it’s destined to once again become part of the Miami boating scene and an active centerpiece in the boat show, sooner than later.

In July, the Miami City Commission unanimously agreed to authorize phase two of the Miami Marine Stadium Project — the development of complete restoration plans for this one-of-a-kind structure. The work will be completed by RJ Heisenbottle Architects, the firm that successfully completed the phase one assessment, which determined the stadium is still structurally sound.

Additionally, the city commission authorized Heisenbottle to move forward with the stadium’s nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, the federal government's official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects deemed worthy of preservation.

The Dade Heritage Trust is the leading preservation organization in Miami Dade County, and the trust began its initial campaign to save the stadium in 2008. In early 2012 the city of Miami, the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium and the Miami Sports and Exhibition Authority agreed on a business plan to restore this popular entertainment venue.

But what has surely given all this effort a huge boost has been the relocation of the big Miami show two years ago by the National Marine Manufacturers Association. In addition, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has named the stadium to its annual list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places and it became one of the trust’s first “National Treasures.” Indeed it is!

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