The Miami Marine Stadium is located on Virginia Key, minutes away from downtown Miami. The venue was the first ever in the world specifically designed for powerboat racing. For almost 30 years, the 6,566 seat stadium was the site of dozens of nationally televised events including the Bill Muncey Invitational and the ESPN All American Challenge Series.
The Miami Marine Stadium became popular for its views of downtown Miami and was used as a filming location for the Elvis Presley movie “Clambake” in 1967. A floating stage was added several years after the stadium opened to host concerts, boxing matches, and even Easter church services.
The Miami Marine Stadium captures the essence of the city with its Modern lines. In 1962, Hilario Candela, a 28 year old Cuban immigrant at the time, was tasked with designing the facility. Miami’s Department of Public Works was not interested in designing a work of art. The City of Miami gave Candela a budget of $1 million and wanted the stadium finished as cheap as possible.
Candela designed an architectural marvel. The stadium was built half on land, and half on water. The grand stand would be sheltered by an origami-shaped concrete roof. The City of Miami, concerned about funding, almost put a stop to it before construction started. Candela promised the City of Miami he would be within budget or he would design it for free. The city accepted the deal and the Miami Marine Stadium was built as Candela designed it. The project actually came in under budget.
At the time of completion, the concrete canopy was the world’s longest span of cantilevered concrete at 326 feet. The roof is supported by eight enormous slanted columns anchored in the ground through the grand stand. A horizontal beam ties the whole thing together. The posts are set back as far as possible to give unobstructed views over the watercourse.
The Marine Stadium was dedicated on December 23, 1963 to Ralph Munroe, an American yacht designer and one of the pioneers of Coconut Grove. The complete formal name of the stadium is Commodore Ralph Middleton Munroe Miami Marine Stadium.
The Marine Stadium played host to many world class powerboat events including Unlimited Hydroplane, Performance Craft, Grand National divisions as well as several others. During the 1970s and 1980s, several large concerts were held at the stadium including a legendary 2 day Jimmy Buffet concert in 1985. Hundreds of boats surrounded the facility to enjoy the festivities. The last major race held at the Marine Stadium was the 20th Annual Budweiser Hydroplane Regatta on June 1, 1990.
During its last few years of operation the Marine Stadium showed signs of deterioration from neglect as the City of Miami had no interest in managing the property. Unfortunately, the facility was closed in 1992. A study conducted by the City of Miami concluded that the structure suffered severe damages from Hurricane Andrew and was no longer safe.
The city requested $1 million from FEMA to have the stadium demolished. The insurance company commissioned a separate engineering study which showed that the facility suffered no damage from Hurricane Andrew.
The study concluded that $2-$3 million was needed to repair the stadium from lack of maintenance during the operating years of 1964-1992. Once the study was made public, many people opposed the demolition and the City of Miami returned the $1 million to FEMA.
Although the demolition was halted the Marine Stadium remained shuttered. With no security, it did not take long before graffiti artists and taggers took over. There were several attempts to have the abandoned stadium demolished to build a marina and condos however nothing ever materialized.
A group of volunteers, Friends of Miami Marine Stadium, formed in 2008 with the purpose of restoring the Miami Marine Stadium. The City of Miami granted control of the property to the group in 2013.
After years of interest in restoring the stadium, city commissioners approved $45 million in November 2016 to renovate and improve the stadium. The approval kick-started a long awaited restoration. In December 2016 commissioners approved a contract for architectural and engineering work to begin.