September 19, 2008
  Miami Marine Stadium Wins Historic Designation

by Russell Boniface
Associate Editor

How do you . . . lead a restoration effort for an architecturally and regionally significant structure?

Summary: The City of Miami’s Historic and Environmental Preservation Board has nominated the Miami Marine Stadium for historic landmark status from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Miami-based Friends of Miami Marine Stadium, under the umbrella of Dade Heritage Trust, has been working with AIA Miami in seeking to restore the 1964 concrete Modern structure that sits on the Virginia Key barrier island facing Biscayne Bay and features a view of the downtown Miami skyline. In its heyday, Miami Marine Stadium hosted power boat racing, floating concerts by legendary performers, Easter services, and even a rally for then-President Nixon. The 6,500-seat cantilevered grandstand, one of the largest unsupported concrete spans in the world, was abandoned in 1992 when it was devastated by Hurricane Andrew. Declared unsafe by the City of Miami, it has not been used since.

Miami Marine Stadium sits on the northeastern edge of the Rickenbacker Causeway in Miami, overlooking Biscayne Bay. The stadium, one of the first major U.S. structures to be designed by a Cuban-born architect, is the brainchild of Hilario Candela, FAIA, who worked in the early ‘60s with architect Albert Ferendino to design Miami Marine Stadium as a poured-in-place concrete grandstand structure for power boat races and other aquatic events. Candela is currently involved in the efforts to restore Miami Marine Stadium.

Concrete and grandstand as regional metaphor
Miami Marine Stadium boasts a cantilevered roof supported by eight large slanted columns anchored through the rear of the grandstand to maximize unobstructed views. Its concrete canopy’s zig-zag of triangles and inverted triangles suggests waves and sails. When viewed from the water, the grandstand and the zig-zag canopy together form an image of alligator jaws. Candela and Ferendino extended the bottom third of the grandstand into the Bay to suggest it was floating, counter to its “floating” stage for concerts.

“Only in Miami” redux
The stadium, currently in a state of neglect, sits with its railings corroding and its concrete surfaces covered in graffiti. But there’s great hope: The Friends of Miami Marine Stadium is leading an initiative to renovate the shuttered stadium for its architectural, historic, and cultural significance. They have nominated the stadium for historic designation and have worked with AIA Miami on proposals for its restoration. A public charrette in June of 2007 showed support for its renovation and reuse, and, on July 1, Miami Marine Stadium was nominated for historic landmark status by the City of Miami’s Historic and Environmental Preservation Board.

“We will go back to Miami’s preservation board in several months to designate the structure,” says Don Worth, Friends of Miami Marine Stadium co-founder. “Beyond that, larger issues remain that include funding the rehabilitation costs and operating it. It won’t be an easy fight, but I think we have a great opportunity, because the structure is remarkable and loved by many people. It has played a large role in community memory. It’s an only-in-Miami experience.”

Worth says that the Miami Marine Stadium also serves as a unifying symbol for the city. “This is a structure that needs to be reinvented,” he says. “I have spent my time looking at programming issues for the stadium because that is the key. Yes, the building is great, but if you can’t use it for anything, then what are we doing?”

Worth’s adaptive reuse proposals include concerts; participatory athletic events, such as dragon boat racing, triathlons, wakeboarding, and long-distance swimming; powerboat racing; site location shoots for movies and television; and creative events. “I think there is an active portfolio of activity that spreads out and can hit a number of demographics,” he concludes. “The size of the stadium is actually a sweet spot in terms of events, and the visuals and setting are beyond spectacular.”

news headlines

Visit the Friends of Miami Marine Stadium Web site for more information.

Did you know ...
Originally built for power boat racing, the stadium’s floating stage hosted legendary performers including Jimmy Buffett, Bonnie Raitt, and Mitch Miller; Easter services; flotillas; the Miami Pops and the Boston Pops; and television shows. Clambake, an Elvis Presley movie, was shot there, and Sammy Davis Jr. once hugged President Richard Nixon at a rally there.

Do You Know SOLOSO?
The AIA’s resource knowledge base can connect you to the AIA Best Practices article “Integrating Sustainability and Historic Preservation.”

See what else SOLOSO has to offer for your practice.

From the AIA Bookstore: Structural Anaylsis of Historic Buildings: Restoration, Preservation, and Adaptive Reuse Applications, by J. Stanley Rabun, 2000.

1. Friends of Miami Marine Stadium envisions concerts and creative events at Miami Marine Stadium.
2. Miami Marine Stadium currently sits in neglect.
3. Adaptive reuse proposals by Friends of Miami Marine Stadium include various boating activities.
4. A public charrette in June 2007 showed support for its renovation and reuse.
5. The 6,500-seat, cantilevered grandstand is one of the largest unsupported concrete spans in the world.