What was once an iconic venue for events ranging from Jimmy Buffett concerts to powerboat races, the venerable Miami Marine Stadium is closer today to restoration than ever before with the recent Miami commissioners’ vote to put up $45 million.
So why is it notable for our industry? Aside from the fact that it sits in the center of the Progressive Miami International Boat Show that made its own historic move to Virginia Key last year, the stadium once brought thousands of boaters and wannabes to the water’s edge each year — a fascinating story indeed.
It was the first purpose-built venue for powerboat racing in the United States and opened 53 years ago this month. The 6,566-seat stadium was designed by architect Hilario Candela, a 28-year-old Cuban immigrant. It’s football-field-sized cantilevered, fold-plate roof stretches 326 feet and was the longest span of cantilevered concrete in the world. Eight huge slanted columns are anchored in the ground.
For decades, the stadium hosted many world-class powerboat events including: Unlimited Hydroplane, Inboard and Outboard Performance Craft racing in Stock, Modified and Grand National divisions. It was the site of many nationally televised events including the Bill Muncey Invitational and the ESPN All American Challenge Series.
In later years, the creation of a floating stage made it the venue of choice for great entertainment featuring classical, rock and pop music concerts. In 1967, the Elvis Presley movie "Clambake” (about an oil tycoon's heir swapping places with a poor water-skier) was filmed there.
It’s where Sammy Davis Jr. hugged Richard Nixon in 1972; the legendary 1985 Jimmy Buffett concert filled the stadium and the lagoon with hundreds of boats anchored up; and it was the same for The Beach Boys, Steppenwolf, Dave Brubeck, Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops, Ray Charles and many more on the floating stage.
It was the place to go, by land or water, until Category 5 Hurricane Andrew slammed into South Florida in 1992. Although a follow-up engineering assessment concluded it was not damaged, it was declared an unsafe building under Miami-Dade County building codes and shuttered by the City of Miami. That was 24 years ago, but she still stands strong and tall at the water’s edge.
In 2008, the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium was formed to bring it back to life. A year later, the stadium was recognized as an architectural masterpiece by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and named to the National Trust’s 11 Most Endangered List.
But perhaps the greatest boost to the effort to restore the stadium came last year when the Miami boat show successfully moved to the stadium site. The enormous annual economic impact ($600 million) of the boat show for Miami resulted in the city spending $18 million to create an outdoor event space on the island that will eventually become a multipurpose park. Moreover, the stadium is only part of a larger overhaul of the city-owned barrier island which could include the redesign, rebuild and operation of two marinas along the Marine Stadium Basin.
Singer, songwriter, actress, seven-time Grammy winner and successful businesswoman, Gloria Estefan, is among those leading the effort to restore the stadium. While there is still work to be done before actual restoration can begin (there is no set timetable), seeing the stadium come alive again is now closer than ever and worthy of note.
Here is a video of how Gloria Estefan sees it: