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$9.2 million deficit looms to restore Miami Marine Stadium

City of Miami officials are estimating a $9.2 million deficit for the project to restore Miami Marine Stadium and build the new maritime museum and welcoming center next door.

The city intends to renovate the stadium and make other improvements on Virginia Key using revenue bonds and other funds, and is working on a request for proposals to manage the stadium.

City commissioners got a status report on the stadium Feb. 8 from Assistant City Manager Alberto Parjus. Commissioners also got the latest report detailing projected resources and expenditures for the stadium and maritime center project.

In summary, the city projects about $50.4 million in available funds and $59.6 million in costs.

The only commissioner to voice alarm was Joe Carollo, who suggested no more taxpayer money be spent on the stadium.

Mr. Carollo questioned the logic of moving forward with restoring and reopening the stadium before having a plan for how it will be operated.

A former Miami mayor, Mr. Carollo said the stadium lost money even in its heyday.

The city government owns much of the barrier island, which is home to the iconic concrete stadium and historic basin.

The city closed the stadium in 1992 in the wake of Hurricane Andrew. Talk of restoring the facility was just that for years, until November 2016 when the city commission approved $45 million in bonding to borrow money to fund stadium renovation and other improvements.

The restoration became real in January 2017 when the commission hired R.J. Heisenbottle Architects for architectural and engineering services related to the stadium.

The city has already paid more than $1.4 million for designs.

“The project is well on its way,” Mr. Parjus told commissioners.

A separate report shows a proposed schedule for the stadium restoration and construction of the maritime center.

Design development for the stadium is to be completed by August, construction documents completed by December, permitting completed by June 2019, bidding and award completed by December 2019, and construction is to be finished by November 2021.

Design criteria development for the maritime center is to be completed by April, permitting completed by June, bidding and award completed by December, construction documents completed by August 2019, and construction to be finished by July 2020.

“My concern is that we’re rushing into something with no plan,” Mr. Carollo said. “Where’s the five-year plan [to bring in revenues]… It always lost money – why are we rushing into something?”

The money being spent on the stadium could go toward affordable housing, Mr. Carollo said.

“We gave up the Olympia Theater because it lost money… My concern is that we’re creating another white elephant,” he said.

Mr. Carollo said most city residents – 90% – will never set foot inside the stadium. “I would like to see a new outlook,” he said.

Mr. Parjus said the city has considered various uses for the stadium and flex park that surrounds it. He said city staff requested letters of interest and three “very large operators” said they see potential in the stadium property.

City officials have said the expectation is that a new operator for two city-owned marinas on the island, and redevelopment of those facilities, will bring in new revenue to help offset stadium costs.

Commissioner Ken Russell said he disagrees with Mr. Carollo.

“The last thing we’re doing is rushing,” he said, noting the decades of neglect that have chipped away at the stadium.

Mr. Russell said it was the will of the commission to move forward with restoration when it voted unanimously to approve the $45 million bond borrowing.

Mr. Carollo was not part of that decision, being elected in November 2017.

The latest report shows total projected available funds of $50,491,988. This amount represents $45 million borrowed through bonds, $3 million from Miami-Dade County general obligation bond borrowing, $1,411,988 in general funds, a $1 million state grant, and an $80,000 federal grant.

It lists total projected capital expenditures of $59,695,271. This amount represents $48,287,991 for Marine Stadium and $11,407,280 to build the new 22,000-square-foot maritime center.

Identified as “projected deficit or amount to be adjusted” is the figure $9,203,283.

Among the calculations of projected expenditures are contingency funds totaling $4,389,127.

“We can’t say that we won’t use contingency funds,” said Mr. Parjus, but the city could reduce projected costs by value engineering the project.

Mr. Carollo said money from the marinas will not be enough revenue to cover the gap in stadium costs, and again asked to see a plan for operating a restored stadium.

He suggested a referendum on the matter.

“Let’s put it out to a vote and let the residents decide. Most won’t set foot in there. We shouldn’t be stuck – the residents – paying another bill,” said Mr. Carollo.

Daniel Rotenberg, director of the city’s Department of Real Estate and Asset Management, addressed Mr. Carollo and spoke of the financial viability of Marine Stadium.

He said the city has five-, seven- and 10-year projections and has major event operators telling them “it’s going to be profitable.”

Mr. Carollo shot back, “Who says? What can you show us?

Since the status report on the stadium was only a discussion item on the agenda, no votes were taken.

The Heisenbottle firm has reported that a restored Marine Stadium could host Jet Ski competitions, beauty pageants and more. Richard J. Heisenbottle said his team and a dozen consultants assembled more than 50 potential uses for the waterfront stadium, thanks in large part to community input.

The report lists five categories of potential uses: marine; sports and fitness; community; education and nature; and entertainment.

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