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The fight to restore the historic Miami Marine Stadium to its former splendor of the 1960s, when outboard racing and concerts and shows were all the rage, is moving forward and, perhaps soon, the public will once again be able to roar its concrete waterfront bleachers.
A handful of cultural organizations are convinced of the importance of restoring and returning to the public this marine stadium, built in 1963, and now designated an architectural masterpiece by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
But to restore it to its former luster, perhaps millions of dollars in funding will be needed to clean and rehabilitate it.
The fact is that this marine amphitheater with a cantilevered roof that stands on Virginia Key, in Miami Bay, on the shores of a beautiful mile-long sea chute, is today a concrete structure ate away by graffiti and neglect.
In 2002, this 326-foot-long (almost 100 meters) reinforced concrete construction, the longest cantilever in the world when it was erected and with a capacity for 6,566 people, almost collapsed to the demolition cranes.
After all, few people remembered the Miami Marine Stadium, closed in 1992 by the authorities with the dubious argument that the passage of Hurricane Andrew through southeast Florida had damaged its foundations and structure.
It was a score of cultural and community organizations that saved the stadium from this end, but the Miami Marine Stadium has remained mute ever since.
The Miami Center for Architecture and Design (MCDA), which will convene a panel of experts on September 13 for a grassroots mobilization in defense of this landmark, stands out in this fight to preserve and bring the marine stadium back to life.
The recovery of Miami Marine Stadium “would not only be a benefit for all the people, but a way to enjoy Miami Bay not only for yacht owners,” Rosa Lawinger, president of the company RLA Conservation of Art + Architecture and an expert in the preservation of the stadium, told Efe today.
The pending task to achieve this goal is “simply” to convince two Miami city commissioners, Joe Carollo and Alex Diaz de la Portilla, that the recovery of the stadium “would be one of the best things that can be done for this city.”
Miami Marine Stadium: a solid structure
As for the condition of the structure, after so much time without public use, Lawinger assures that the construction of the stadium with “reinforced concrete and a galvanized steel roof, with an engineer who was one of the best” at the time, gives the monument great security.
After the passage of Hurricane Andrew, one of the most prominent engineering companies in the United States reviewed the structure of the stadium and found it to be stable, which stopped the city council’s attempt to demolish the historic stadium, now also protected by the Miami Environmental and Historic Preservation Board (FMMS).
Asked if the tragic collapse of an apartment building in the town of Surfside, near Miami Beach, could hinder this initiative, the expert said that “there is no comparison between a building like the stadium, built with the best techniques of the time” and the apartment tower that collapsed and caused the death of 98 people.
The Champlain Towers South “was built in the 1980s, when everything in this city was suspicious; but in the 1960s, buildings were built differently,” Lawinger said, adding that “inspectors from the largest engineering companies in the United States who have reviewed the stadium see it as something extraordinary, one of the strongest constructions ever seen.
The modernist stadium, designed by a young 28-year-old Cuban-American architect, Hilario Candela, was a great success with the public from its inauguration as a stage specially designed for motorboat races.
It was followed by all kinds of shows, from boxing matches and classical, opera and rock concerts on a floating stage to political events such as the one that took place in 1972 during a Republican campaign in Miami in which the famous singer, actor and musician Sammy Davis Junior embraced the future President of the United States, Richard Nixon.
An attraction for Miami
This geometric-surfaced stadium, which shades almost the entire grandstand with its massive origami-like eaves, is such a unique sculptural construction that the Getty Foundation donated $160,000 in 2014 for its preservation.
“The stadium is simply the most representative building of the development of the city of Miami (…) and it was built with all the splendor of Cuban architecture of the 1950s,” Lawinger emphasized.
For this expert of Cuban origin, “destroying it, not restoring it,” would imply a total indifference to this “monument that represents what the Cuban community did for this city,” and, moreover, at a time when Miami is transforming from a small city into the “international capital of sports” in the hemisphere, she said.
Lawinger warned, however, of strong economic interests that covet this patch of land and sea to turn it into a marina for yacht docking or the construction of a luxury hotel.
“The land where the stadium is located is very valuable, and they may want to use the excuse of its state of deterioration, even if it is not very bad, to demolish it,” she warned, to remind us that “expenses (of reform) are always there, but monuments like this very few.”
The good news is that the “plans” for the recovery of the Miami Marine Stadium “exist” and the project “is well underway,” but everything depends on the end, she regretted, on the vote of the city council commission.
The illusions and commitment to revive this protected historic site remain intact in many non-profit organizations, in a population that hopes to see the stadium’s past splendor restored soon.