For over two decades, local artists have been fervently and fantastically vandalizing a massive abandoned waterfront structure that lies on a small piece of land, carved in between Miami’s urban north and natural south bays. This partially-floating concrete giant—the Miami Marine Stadium—has been technically off-limits to the public since Hurricane Andrew slammed southern Florida in 1992, but the place has been all but vacant since then.
Nowadays, despite being prohibited city property, the Miami Marine Stadium is frequented around the clock by a steady flow of visitors. The venue, erected in 1963 as an unprecedented structure to observe powerboat races, now plays host to rooftop parties, sunny day lazing, and has been exploited as a gigantic ever-evolving canvas used by Miami’s street art community.
Although street artists are both illegally frequenting and defacing the Miami Marine Stadium, the building’s architect Hilario Candela is completely grateful to those that continue to breath life into the structure. “They have become the natural users of the space,” he said. “And they are the life that has sustained it for the past twenty years.”
The community’s evident magnetic captivation with the stadium caught the attention of several local grassroots organizations a few years ago, inciting them to collaboratively push towards having it properly restored, for everyone to enjoy—legitimately. In 2008, Friends of the Miami Marine Stadium, an all-volunteer non-profit organization was formed, with the intention of drafting a feasible plan to restore and operate the property. “It’s a forbidden place, yet people go there,” said Donald Worth, co-founder of FMMS. “All kinds of artists are being stimulated by this building in one shape or form, and folks here are excited about bringing it back.”
Very soon, that just might happen. FMMS will be taking its detailed restoration plan back to the city of Miami, seeking approval, for a second time later this month. As of March, FMMS had two out of five of the city of Miami’s commissioners vocally on board with its project—what they need to do now is swing the vote.
Since the organization began its efforts, they’ve accumulated a variety of building blocks in their favor, by way of credibility, funding and distinction. In 2009, FMMS reached an official partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The stadium appeared on NTHP’s 11 most endangered list that same year, and was designated the status of National Treasure in 2012. The Miami Herald has published several editorials in favor of restoring the stadium. And at the end of April, FMMS presented renowned singer and actress Gloria Estefan as the project’s official spokesperson.
“She is loved in this community and is really respected outside of Miami and worldwide—she, herself is sort of symbol of this city,” said Worth.” To have her involved as we are returning to the city gives us a huge boost.”
This time around, when heading back for a second meeting with commissioners, FMMS is calling on the community to give the city an extra push.“We find ourselves in a really unique situation,” said Jason Clement of NTHP. “Right now, there is actually something that the general public can do to help the stadium.” NTHP has created an online form with a pre-drafted letter that people—local or not—can send to the city commissioners, expressing their support for the plan.
If the plan is approved, FMMS will have 18 months to raise the $30 million required for renovations. “These are tough times for government,” said Worth. “The city of Miami is not in good financial shape, so we are trying a completely different funding approach.” FMMS has opted to raise all of the required restoration funds privately, steering clear of city money, and local tax dollars. Worth says the organization plans to source funds through a combination of private philanthropy, the sale of naming rights and foundation support. As of right now, FMMS has collected $10 million, making them one third of the way to their target amount.
The plan is preservation-focused, and will ensure that the restoration will not meddle with the design of the structure. Rather, the intention is to update the stadium with state of the art sound and lighting technologies, to facilitate a wide-range of future performance options for the space.
Worth also promises that the graffiti, which has come to be a staple of the stadium, won’t be lost in the process. “There are so many layers of art and history and creativity here,” he said. “We intend to preserve this artistic culture that has thrived and kept the stadium alive.” Worth believes that embracing the art is crucial to keeping the appeal and mystique that has been developed towards the building over the past two decades.
Along with Candela, both Worth and Clement believe that if they are given the go-ahead by the city, the positive repercussions they will be able to offer in return will be huge. “This would basically bring the waterfront to life, make it very accessible for people to experience Miami for what it is known for—beautiful water and beautiful views” said Clement.
The Miami Marine Stadium is a unique structure, with no other facility like it existing in the world. It sits on the coast, and offers upwards of 6,500 seats looking out over the edge of the water. One third of the structure actually floats, including the gigantic barge that can used as a stage during performances.
“This means that people can pull up by boat, and watch shows from the water. People can listen to music and participate, or they can lay on their backs, jump in the water and stare at the moon,” described Candela.“Where else could this ever happen, but Miami?”