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MIRACLE OF MIAMI : They Said Joe Robbie Could Not Do It, but His Stadium Is Proof He Could--and Did

August 16, 1987|SHAV GLICK | Times Staff Writer

MIAMI — Seeing Joe Robbie Stadium--the new $100-million home of the Miami Dolphins--rising out of the sand flats of South Florida, one thing comes to mind:

Don't get Joe Robbie in a poker game and try to bluff him.

That is what the city of Miami tried to do with the 71-year-old Dolphin owner. When civic administrators told him that they wouldn't build him a new stadium, that he could keep his team in the antiquated Orange Bowl and like it, Robbie called their bluff.

On March 5, 1984, he announced plans to build a stadium in time for the 1987 season, when he would no longer be bound by his Orange Bowl lease. He said that after 1986, the Dolphins would never play another game in the city-owned stadium, which was built in 1937 by the Works Project Administration.

"If Mr. Robbie can do it, he should get a prize as sugar daddy of the year," Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre said at the time. "The proof of the pie is that nobody in America has built a stadium based on 15 dates a year."

So meet Joe Robbie, sugar daddy of the year.

The state-of-the-art stadium, the first of its kind built with private funding, will have its grand opening tonight when the Dolphins play the Chicago Bears in a National Football League exhibition game.

The site, 14 miles north of the Orange Bowl in a low-income rural area known as Lake Lucerne, is significant because it is outside the city limits of Miami--thus denying the city tax revenues. It is in unincorporated Dade County.

A council report said that the city will lose $1.2 million in revenue from the Dolphins' departure. County officials estimated that Dade County will realize about $2 million in taxes.

"The standing challenge in Miami always was, 'If Joe Robbie wants a new stadium, let him build it himself,' " Robbie said. "I suppose that's what first got my interest. I don't think I'd have done it if they hadn't told me it couldn't be done."

Although Robbie had to hock the Dolphins, right down to their last jersey and pair of cleats, to keep construction going, he did not skimp in making the stadium a showcase for NFL football. The luxury suites, which lease for up to $65,000 a year for 10 years, are truly luxurious.

Each suite, which seats from 10 to 16 people in theater-type chairs, is fully furnished with carpeting, air conditioning, two TV monitors, refrigerator, ice maker, liquor cabinet, lounge furniture, catered food and beverage service, telephones and, if you want to hear the masses cheering, sliding windows that let in noises from the outside world.

The executive suites were Robbie's chief source of early revenue to stimulate loans from banking establishments. His plan was to raise $9 million in security deposits by leasing 216 executive suites for $29,000 to $65,000, depending on their size and location, and 10,000 club seats for $600 to $1,400.

The club seats are outdoors but all are directly beneath overhanging boxes, thus giving them shade from the blazing Florida sun. And, to refresh club seat ticket holders from the oppressive humidity--day or night--a 34-inch duct will blow cool air on them.

Both suites and club seats are reachable by private escalator and are located on a hotel-like concourse that circles the stadium. With bars and easy chairs, it has the atmosphere of a private club.

The stadium was designed with the thought that half the fans will be women--a departure from older stadium planning. Thus, there are as many women's restroom facilities as men's, 40.

Two gigantic scoreboards, 140 feet wide and 56 feet high, stand like billboards at each end of the playing field. They are capable of showing instant replays, movies, commercials--even scores of other games. Not surprisingly, they are sponsored by those staples of American sports, Winston and Budweiser.

The field is natural grass and, as a concession to the tropical rains, has a drainage system designed to return a firm playing surface within 30 minutes of a one-inch-an-hour downpour.

Once Robbie announced his plans, he and his staff didn't sit back and wait for people to knock down the door. He organized a traveling show, complete with a film that included pictures of comparable suites in Sullivan Stadium, home of the New England Patriots, and hit the road to service and civic groups, conventions, industrial firms and country clubs. Inside a van, brightly painted in the Dolphins' aqua and orange, was a model of the stadium, allowing potential ticket buyers a graphic look at their future football home.

When the Dolphins played in the 1985 Super Bowl game against the San Francisco 49ers in Palo Alto, Calif., Robbie offered tickets to the game and transportation on a chartered plane for anyone buying a suite in his new stadium.

He met his goal in less than two years.

Robbie is such a salesman that before the 160-acre site had even been cleared, using only architect's renderings, he had booked the 1989 Super Bowl into his stadium.

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