More than four years have passed since the Miami City Commission made the restoration of Marine Stadium on Virginia Key a reality by approving bond funding for the project.
Yet the project remains in limbo, costs have risen, and now city staff is hiring even more consultants to check the work that’s already been done by architects and scores of other consultants.
The unclear status of the project remains a major concern for members of the Virginia Key Advisory Board, who discussed the stadium April 27.
The stadium project and a proposed boat ramp just west of the stadium brought out scores of residents to the meeting at City Hall.
Board member Lynn Lewis asked staffers of the Office of Capital Improvements (OCI) why there is a need for new consultants at this stage.
Ms. Lewis said: “You tell us that the city is going to engage a consultant to review a whole series of matters. Could you elaborate on that a little bit … (why, because) ‘Gee, haven’t we designed it already? Haven’t we been at the design (stage) for, gee, I don’t know, three or four years.’ Why do we need a consultant now and what is that entity going to do?”
Jocelyne Nguema, a project manager with the OCI, responded: “The consultant is being brought onboard to help validate the assumptions that the architect has made for the operation of the stadium, as well as the maritime center which is a facility that is designated as a support facility that does not actually exist right now.”
There have been some designs for the maritime facility but the cost of that far exceeded the budget, said Ms. Nguema, “so we’ve been asked to kind of go back to the drawing board with the current assumptions we have, with the layout we have, and bring onboard a consultant that will help validate all of our current assumptions, the way the building is being programmed, as of now, so that we can redesign this maritime center so it best supports the stadium itself.”
The City of Miami owns much of the island, including the historic idled Marine Stadium and basin, and the large land area surrounding the stadium, known as a flex park.
For several years the city had been working toward restoring the stadium, closed since 1992’s Hurricane Andrew.
Talk of restoring it was just that for years, until November 2016, when the city commission approved $45 million in bond borrowing to fund stadium renovation and other improvements.
In January 2017 the commission hired R.J. Heisenbottle Architects for architectural and engineering services related to the stadium.
In the most recent status report on the project, it lists the total estimated costs, as provided by the architect, at $48,083,460.
A new maritime center, planned adjacent to the stadium, was given a budget of about $7 million, but advisory board members learned designs had swollen its estimated cost to $15 million.
Board member Peter Ehrlich commented on the projected costs.
In regard to the stadium restoration, “the costs we’re looking at are $48 million, with almost $6 million in fees to architects and consultants. The original cost was considerably less than that figure of $48 million,” Mr. Ehrlich said.
“It seems that every few months your cost estimates keep going higher,” he said. “And we continue to expect that you’re going to raise the potential cost to the taxpayers above this $48 million figure?”
Hector Badia, head of the OCI, said: “We’re looking at trying to lower the cost of the project. As we speak, we have consultants working on value engineering and cost saving measures so we can bring it in on budget.”
Mr. Ehrlich said, “We appreciate you saying you’re looking to reduce the cost but we’ve been hearing that for about 18 months and the costs keep going higher. And you recognize that with debt service it may end up costing the taxpayers $150 million … and now there’s no revenue from the boat show. No rent coming in. And we’re not sure about the operator of this facility.”
The city had a deal with the producers of the Miami International Boat Show to hold the annual event on the land and water around the stadium, which occurred for several years. The city was counting on that license fee money to be revenue for support of a restored stadium. But the boat show announced it is moving back to Miami Beach.
Mr. Badia said the maritime center will be a support facility for the stadium.
He said, “The consultant we’re bringing in is looking at it from a business perspective, what size the maritime center needs to be, what elements need to be included for that to be a successful thing.”
Mr. Ehrlich then asked where the $15 million was coming from to build the maritime center.
Ms. Nguema said $7 million is allocated for the maritime center.
She said, “We’re taking a look and seeing, do we need a $15 million building? What are the support elements that would need to be in this facility to have this price tag? … Can we bring it back down to a $7 million budget? These are all the considerations that this consultant will help us determine.
“There needs to be a lot more work in understanding how this facility will support the stadium. But one thing we do know is that the stadium will not be able to function just by itself without some kind of a support facility. So, what does that look like? And we don’t have the expertise in house, and that’s really why we’re bringing on some help to determine that,” Ms. Nguema said.
The status report on the stadium restoration noted: “Procurement of a consultant to review the existing (construction documents); opine on the efficacy of the proposed design; recommend design changes (if any) to ensure Miami Marine Stadium becomes a desirable and marketable entertainment venue; and review and opine on the existing operating pro forma that will include but not be limited to:
■“General operation guidelines for the day-to-day operation of the Miami Marine Stadium.
■“Guidance around alternate selection(s).
■“Projections for revenue generation opportunities.
■“Identify support facility needs.”
Mr. Badia was asked when restoration construction would begin.
“You’re probably looking at towards the end of this year, the beginning of next year, to start actual construction, with ground activities out there,” he answered.