February 14, 2019

Leaning Into Miami Marine Stadium’s Disuse and Dynamism to Help Save It

As people from all over the world gather at Miami Marine Stadium for the Miami International Boat Show, we look back at our work on this National Treasure.

As preservationists, we often say that buildings are one-of-a-kind, and in the case of South Florida’s Miami Marine Stadium (a National Treasure of the National Trust), it’s especially true. Architecturally and culturally speaking, it’s Miami’s most significant structure—the city’s Eiffel Tower.

One of the things I love most about the stadium is what its backstory says about Miami as a place where people have historically come to find new opportunities and make their mark on the world. The stadium was designed by a 27-year-old architect named Hilario Candela who had just come to the United States from Cuba. Fresh out of school and fresh to America, Candela made the stadium his first major project as an architect in 1963. Fast-forward to today, and it’s considered a masterwork of modern construction.

Our National Treasure campaign with the stadium began in 2012. It was one of the first National Treasures ever designated by the National Trust. Since then, we’ve had one goal: to shine a spotlight on the stadium so brightly that saving it seems like the only option.

Miami Marine Stadium

photo by: Michael Stephen McFarland

Street art and graffiti gave the otherwise abandoned stadium life when it was under threat.

To achieve that goal, we promoted a series of online petitions that have garnered more than 20,000 signatures. We produced a critically acclaimed exhibit at the Coral Gables Museum that brought the stadium to life for a new generation. We hosted mural parties and Instagram tours inside the stadium for local artists and supporters. We even hosted a benefit concert with Gloria Estefan and Jimmy Buffett.

But preservation takes time and tenacity. Our work doesn’t happen overnight, and people’s attention spans ebb and flow in a way that can be maddening. One of the best things we’ve done as an advocacy organization is ensure that our projects are in the news cycle and on people’s social media feeds as often as possible. It’s important to leverage so much excitement and passion that the restoration seems like it’s a no-brainer.

Our strategy was to make sure the stadium looked like a dynamic place, even though it was abandoned.

When we got involved with this project, the stadium already had a cult following. We were very willing to lean into what makes the stadium special in its current disused incarnation—graffiti and street art. Artists have kept the stadium alive and vibrant in the many years its future has been uncertain, and tapping into that passion generated some amazing opportunities to tell the story of the stadium in an unusual way. Leaning into the grittiness that surrounds it sets the stadium apart as a preservation project, and our partners and the City of Miami think this exposure over the past seven years has been critical to moving its restoration forward.

Our traditional preservation partner for the project is Dade Heritage Trust. They’ve been involved in the stadium for longer than we have as a local advocate, and they have been in lock step with us as we’ve produced awareness events over the years.

Lighting up Miami Marine Stadium

photo by: Tomas Loewy

To shine a spotlight on Miami Marine Stadium, preservationists literally lit it up during a 2015 event.

In a non-traditional sense, we also have a partnership with individual advocates who have taken on the stadium’s restoration as a full-time volunteer job. Like a lot of historic places, the stadium has a group of guardians who have made the restoration their life work.

One of those people is Don Worth, who considers the restoration of the stadium his full-time job. He’s at City Hall weekly, goes to every community meeting, has given hundreds of presentations, and has really been our eyes and ears on the ground for the entirety of our National Treasure campaign.

Our work with passionate advocates—from street artists to our traditional partners to long-time restoration supporters—is beneficial because conversations about the stadium’s reuse have never lacked vision or creativity.

Even though our supporters have been invaluable to this process, the National Trust brings an additional layer of legitimacy to this and any project. As the country’s leading preservation organization, we have the power to effectively get local stakeholders to stop and pay attention. Leveraging our resources and reputation of having saved thousands of places brings real value to local projects like the stadium.

And now, the future of Miami Marine Stadium has never been brighter. In November 2016, the Miami City Commission approved $45 million in special obligation bonds dedicated to the restoration of the stadium.

The city has new renderings of the stadium in hand, and we expect construction to begin in 2020. The best part of this story? The original architect, Hilario Candela, is one of the leads on the stadium’s architecture team.

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Jason Clement is the Director of Marketing Campaigns at the National Trust, which means he spends his days (and most nights) talking with people about how they can save the places that matter to their communities.

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