Boat show breathes new life into abandoned Miami seaside stadium


Graffiti-covered Miami Marine Stadium in Miami


Preservationists seeking to restore an iconic, graffiti-covered marine stadium received a boost on Thursday with the announcement that one of the world’s largest boat shows is moving to the venue, which fell out of use after it was damaged by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

“In exploring the Miami Marine Stadium we realized found the ideal location. It has the potential to add a whole new level of excitement,” Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, which runs the Miami International Boat Show, said at a news conference at the stadium on Thursday.

Officials plan to have the boat show at the renovated facility in 2016.

The 6,500-seat arena designed by Cuban-born architect Hilario Candela was built in 1963 on an island just off downtown Miami that was once a segregated beach. In the next two decades the stadium, originally designed for speedboat racing, hosted acts like Jimmy Buffett, Ray Charles and the Beach Boys, who played from stages on barges that bobbed in the water.

Yet when Hurricane Andrew blew through Miami in the summer of 1992, flattening large parts of the county, the city of Miami declared the stadium was irreparably damaged and requested money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to demolish it.

Friends of Miami Marine Stadium, the non-profit seeking to revitalize the venue, formed in 2008. A year later the National Trust for Historic Preservation added the stadium to its list of America’s 11 most endangered historic places.

Earlier this year the Miami Sound Machine’s Gloria Estefan, who also performed at the stadium, pledged $500,000 to the restoration effort earlier this year and became the voice of the restoration campaign.

“I’ve traveled the world and there’s nothing like this anywhere. It would be foolhardy of us to give it up,” Estefan said at the news conference.

The Getty Foundation is donating $180,000 to save some of the graffiti covering the stadium, Estefan said. “Art kept it beautiful despite going through times,” she said.

The Miami boat show is one of south Florida’s top tourist draws and it attracts 100,000 visitors each February. The show had been looking to move from Miami Beach due to plans to upgrade the city’s convention center, which has been the site of the event for several years.

The stadium friends still face an uphill battle to restore the stadium to its former glory. The group estimates renovating it will cost upward of $30 million, and said it has secured about half that money.

Mili Thakur