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Tourism Cares Draws 325 to Miami

MIAMI — In its heyday, the Miami Marine Stadium hosted concerts, ski shows, boat races and other festivities on Virginia Key, with the impressive Miami skyline rising on the horizon just a few miles away. Designed by Cuban immigrant Hilario Candela when he was just 28 years old and completed in 1963, the waterfront venue was a staple of the Miami entertainment scene until it was declared unsafe after Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992.

The stadium has been closed for more than 20 years, but efforts are under way to restore it as an outdoor venue. Those efforts received a major shot of publicity, and the stadium received a massive cleanup when Tourism Cares brought 325 volunteers to the city May 29-30 for Tourism Cares for Miami.

“Tourism Cares for Miami was a phenomenal success,” said Tourism Cares CEO Michael Rea, “not in small part because this venue has been closed for 30 years. Getting our volunteers engaged to address a closed site was huge. Our industry bonded together to come to Miami, and this is the type of project that exemplifies some of the best work we can do.”

In addition to cleaning up the stadium, which has become a site for some rather amazing graffiti artistry and a repository for a lot of trash, the Tourism Cares group also planted trees and sea oats at two other sites on Virginia Key, which will bolster the area’s ecological significance for migrating birds and other wildlife.

“Our group planted 11,000 sea grasses and 785 hammock trees, and we filled eight industrial-size dumpsters of trash from the stadium,” said Rea. “And we did it on an unseasonably warm day even by Miami’s standards.”

Work teams used a constant supply of water, bug spray and sunscreen to combat the elements at all three sites, and a well-planned effort led by local volunteers familiar with the sites ensured that the work would meet their standards.

“That was without a doubt the hardest work project we’ve ever done with Tourism Cares,” said Fred Dixon, president and CEO of NYC and Company, when he addressed a weary but happy group afterward at a cookout held at the Miami Seaquarium. Dixon was one of numerous team leaders assigned to oversee work crews on-site.

“We addressed a real need here — this wasn’t symbolic in any sense,” said Rea. “We’re not lone rangers in this effort. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is behind the effort to restore this stadium. If they raise $30 million and restore this venue, how cool would it be if a group of us went back for an opening event?”

NBC News in Miami sent a film crew and reported on the event, and the Miami Herald posted a video report on YouTube afterward. Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau president Bill Talbert was on hand to explain to media crews the significance of the cleanup to the long-term restoration goals his office shares with other Miami-based preservation groups.

Tourism Cares will hold its next work project November 13-14 in Los Angeles, where volunteers will address restoration needs on the USS Iowa. The battleship served in World War II and earned the moniker “Battleship of Presidents” when President Franklin Roosevelt traveled on board for meetings with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin in 1943. The ship is now anchored in nearby San Pedro, California.

Mac Lacy

Mac Lacy is president and publisher of The Group Travel Leader Inc. Mac has been traveling and writing professionally ever since a two-month backpacking trip through Europe upon his graduation with a journalism degree from the University of Evansville in 1978.