Designed by architect Hilario Candela, a 28-year-old recent immigrant from Cuba, the stadium was built on Virginia Key as the United States’ first stadium purposely-built for powerboat racing on land donated to the City of Miami by the Matheson Family. Dedicated as the Ralph Munroe Marine Stadium, it was completed at a cost of around $2 million and opened in 1963.
Utilizing a floating stage in front of the grandstand, the stadium hosted many world class powerboat events including Unlimited Hydroplane, Inboard, Outboard, Performance Craft, Stock, Modified, and Grand National divisions as well as other special event races. The stadium would become the site of a number of nationally televised events including the Bill Muncey Invitational and the ESPN All American Challenge Series and in later years, would become host to different events ranging from boxing matches to classical concerts to Sunday services.
Going into the 1980s, the stadium saw a decline in events due to a number of issues including new restrictions, political pressure from the City of Miami, and a lack for promoting such events. Along with the issues mentioned, the stadium was also facing growing competition from newer venues such as the James L. Knight Center and the Miami Arena.
The last major race at the stadium was the 1987 Inboard Hydroplane national Championship and by the 1990s, powerboat racing at the stadium was nothing but a memory.
In 1992, Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida, causing billions of dollars worth in damages. After the storm, engineers for the city condemned the stadium due to cracks found in the foundation. In later years, independent engineers would declare the structure sound although needing refurbishing, estimating repairs to be around $2 million.
On February 20, 2008, Friends of Miami Marine Stadium was formed, a group supporting the restoration of the stadium and since then, much progress has been made, including the designation of the stadium and basin as a historic place by Miami’s Historic Preservation and Environmental Board in 2008. It has also been recognized as an architectural masterpiece by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and World Monuments Fund.
On April 6, 2010, Miami-Dade County Commissioners passed a resolution to allocate $3-million to the stadium to start its historical preservation and return it as a venue for water sports and major concerts. It was only in March when an engineering study by the firm of Simpson Gumpertz found that renovating the stadium would cost between $5.5 and $8.5 million, which is substantially less than the $15 million the city of Miami initially said it would take to renovate the facility.
The stadium remains to be an eyesore to this day, attracting taggers, vagrants and other vandals to it’s grounds. Here’s hoping to the preservation and future of this marvelous piece of history.