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Miami approves reduced bond amount to fund Marine Stadium renovations

Aerial view of a concrete stadium built next to a body of water, with graffiti drawn on the bleachers.
City of Miami
via YouTube
An aerial shot of Miami Marine Stadium on Virginia Key.

The City of Miami commission slashed potential bond funding to renovate a languishing Miami landmark on Thursday, but the city seems to be inching closer towards revitalizing what was once a major marine attraction.

The Miami Marine Stadium on Virginia Key — designed by Cuban architect Hilario Candela and built in the 1960s to host powerboat races — has been in a state of disrepair for decades. The structure was declared unsafe and was closed to the public after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and has since become a magnet for graffiti and vandalism. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2018.

Arguments over the vision for the stadium and funding snafus have long stalled efforts to renovate the aging structure.

City administration officials asked commissioners on Thursday to approve a resolution declaring the city's intent to reimburse itself for renovating the stadium using $61.2 million in so-called “special obligation bonds.”

READ MORE: New Exhibit Features Artworks Made From The Historic Chairs Of The Miami Marine Stadium

The commission had already voted in favor of issuing bonds for stadium work back in 2016. The commission at the time approved a measure to take on $45 million in debt for, but the bonds were never issued and the authorization expired. So far the city has worked to repair parts of the structure's overall integrity.

The new resolution sought to renew the city’s intent to issue bonds, and increase the amount by about $16 million.

The extra funding was meant to let the city use existing funds to pay for renovations, a new boat ramp and mooring field, as well as a welcome center and museum, and then pay themselves back with debt once the bonds were issued.

"The project has been sitting there for years and years and we still don’t have a realistic plan."
City of Miami Commissioner Sabina Covo

But Commissioner Joe Carollo fought back against the idea, believing it to be too expensive without a guarantee that the city would make profit.

“My biggest concern was that this was going to be a white elephant, another one that we were going to have yearly deficits on,” Carollo told city administrators on Thursday.

Commissioner Sabina Covo, whose district includes Virginia Key, told WLRN that the commission was concerned that there were no concrete plans in place for how the city would spend its money, and what work would be done on Marine Stadium.

“The project has been sitting there for years and years and we still don’t have a realistic plan,” Covo said.

During a lunchtime break, administrators met with the commissioners privately to discuss their concerns. The resolution was then amended to allow for just $6 million in bonds to be issued — a more than 90% drop from the initial ask. Mention of the museum and welcome center were also removed from the item, leaving only the boat ramp and mooring field, which the city already has partial grant funding to build.

The resolution passed 3 to 0 following the amendments. Commissioner Manolo Reyes was absent and the District 1 seat is vacant owing to Alex Diaz de la Portilla’s suspension.

Covo said administrators intend to come back with a more fleshed out plan for the museum and welcome center later on and request permission to issue more bonds.

Assistant City Manager Larry Spring told commissioners that bonds will likely be issued in 2024.

Joshua Ceballos is WLRN's Local Government Accountability Reporter and a member of the investigations team. Reach Joshua Ceballos at jceballos@wlrnnews.org
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