Out of the Park

One plan for a new Marlins stadium could be a winner for Miami, which is nice since you're going to pay for it

Acclaimed architects like Wood and Zapata don't work for free (neither does Luft for that matter), so Ferré went begging for money to underwrite a low-cost preliminary design proposal Wood said would run about $40,000. Ferré hit up John Henry, Hank Sopher, the Knight Foundation, and New York businesswoman Avra Jain, who co-owns property near the future Performing Arts Center. They all agreed to chip in, though Ferré says he's actually collected only $5000 so far.

Luft recalls an early telephone conversation with Wood: "Ben called me and said, “I've got a crazy idea. Do you think you can move the boulevard? I mean, is that an important road?' I said, “Well, it is U.S. federal highway number one.' Ben said, “Forget it.' I said, “No. Don't forget it.'

"So Ben asked me: “What the hell really is the issue here?' I said the issue is: Don't put something that big [like a stadium] between the boulevard and the bay. We did it with the American Airlines Arena, and lots of people had to swallow hard; a lot of people never quite got over putting a big box between the boulevard and the bay. And Ben said, “If you don't want to put it between the boulevard and the bay, then move the boulevard.'

Artist's rendering of the Park West plan (the Biscayne Bay fountain is Ferré's brainstorm)Enlarge Photo
Courtesy Wood + Zapata
Artist's rendering of the Park West plan (the Biscayne Bay fountain is Ferré's brainstorm)

Enlarge Photo

Overhead view: The park design, says Ben Wood, is merely an idea, not a comprehensive plan Enlarge Photo
Courtesy Wood + Zapata
Overhead view: The park design, says Ben Wood, is merely an idea, not a comprehensive plan

Enlarge Photo

"You've got to have somebody who is so disconnected from practical reality that they can come up with these naive suggestions, someone off the wall," Luft observes with a laugh. "I told Maurice: “We've got to be crazy. Three guys sitting here with no money and no authority thinking we can do something like this.'"

A design quickly began to take shape, made possible by the fact that New York tycoon Sopher owned virtually every parcel of land between Biscayne Boulevard and NE Second Avenue, from Sixth Street north to I-395. The basic idea was this: Use Sopher's northern properties as a site for the stadium. In exchange for giving up that land, Sopher would be allowed to consolidate his southern parcels by closing several east-west streets. He would also receive the slice of land left vacant when the boulevard moved eastward. That would give him five contiguous acres, plenty of room for a megadevelopment and by most accounts more valuable than all his smaller parcels combined. According to Wood, Ferré, and others, Sopher is enthusiastic about the proposal.

The stadium site created by this land swap amounted to ten acres, substantially less than the seventeen acres the Marlins have insisted they need for a stadium with a retractable roof. Wood was unfazed. His intense involvement in the effort to build a new stadium for the Chicago Bears has amounted to a five-year crash course in sports-facility design and construction. He was confident a stadium would fit within that area. As he noted in his report, the current generation of major-league ballparks occupy between 8.5 and 10.5 acres, excluding parking areas. The problem was John Henry's wish for a roof that, when retracted, left the entire stadium in the open. To accomplish that, much more land was necessary, and the resulting structure would rise as high as 290 feet. Wood's response: open-air fixed roofs covering most seating and a retractable roof covering only the playing field.

Using the new Safeco baseball stadium in Seattle as a template, Wood easily plopped it down inside the ten-acre site and had room left over for the superstructure required for a smaller retractable roof. As an added bonus, this design reduced the height by 100 feet.

With the stadium issue resolved, Wood, Zapata, and Luft moved on to other matters. Inspired by Ferré's admonition to think big and worry about political ramifications and financial details later, the design team followed their imaginations. To make up for parkland usurped by Biscayne Boulevard's eastward curve, they recommended filling in the large inlet along the park's southern boundary, as well as two manmade coves on the eastern edge. Net gain: slightly more than eight acres of land, fully restoring the loss to the boulevard. In addition the unsightly sewage-pumping station now inside Bicentennial Park that occupies slightly more than a half-acre, would end up west of the boulevard and outside the park. (Wood and crew say it's financially feasible to lower the elevation of the pumps so they virtually disappear from view.)

In an effort to address a chronic complaint about Bicentennial Park and other downtown waterfront land -- namely, that the bay is hidden from view -- Wood elevated Biscayne Boulevard six to eight feet as it curves toward the park. The park itself would slope up from water's edge to meet the roadway. Drivers and pedestrians traversing the boulevard would now have an unobstructed view across the park to the bay. Another attractive advantage: The elevation would be enough to accommodate parking beneath the park (provided the ground isn't hopelessly contaminated with petroleum waste).

The underground parking wouldn't be for baseball fans; they would use existing and new garages and lots west of the stadium, where Wood envisions direct access to and from I-395. The parking under Bicentennial Park would be used by people coming to the park and its cultural attractions, those being one or two museums. (The Miami Art Museum and the Museum of Science have joined forces and are assiduously lobbying to relocate within the park.)

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