UM alum hopes to build Hurricane football stadium in Tropical Park

John H. Ruiz, founder of Medicare Secondary Payer (MSP) Recovery and alumnus of the University of Miami, thinks he can build a new Miami Hurricanes football stadium in nearby Tropical Park, three miles away.

Since the demolition of the Orange Bowl and relocation to Hard Rock Stadium in 2008, UM fans, administration, and athletes have fought over a more accessible stadium.

“The Orange Bowl had this feel that had never been replicated at the Hard Rock,” Ruiz said. “You were close to the pitch, you could feel the game, you know? That’s how we want to put it together here.

Stadium Committee Founder John H Ruiz stands with Committee Co-Chair Diana Diaz. Photo credit: Patrick McCaslin

UM currently leases Hard Rock Stadiumlocated 22 miles from campus and offers buses for UM students to watch home games.

“Our stadium just isn’t packed,” said Kamren Kinchens, a second-year guard for the Miami Hurricanes football team. “It’s too far for our students to drive 40 minutes to the stadium.”

The proposed stadium, called LifeWallet Stadium, would be part of a larger entity known as LifeWallet Park. The tropical park in Olympia Heights, Florida would be completely renovated to make way for this construction.

Tropical Park has long been an integral part of Miami-Dade County (MDC). A racetrack from 1931 to 1972, the county eventually bought it and expanded it into a 275-acre park. Today it includes a dog park, baseball diamonds, basketball courts, stables, a track, football fields, nature trails, picnic shelters/pavilions, playgrounds, tennis courts, racquetball courts and soccer fields.

Ruiz plans to maintain many of these facilities and include even more in his construction of LifeWallet Park. In addition to the LifeWallet stadium, Ruiz said he hopes to build a new branch of Jackson Health, sports training spaces with audio-visual equipment and venues for “every sport there is.”

“Everyone wants to make these grand plans, I just wanted a closer stadium, built for a varsity team, easy for students to get to,” said former UM president and congresswoman Donna Shalala. .

Tropical Park has long been a consideration for a new stadium location. In 2008, when the Orange Bowl was demolished, UM and Florida International University (FIU) had reached a tentative agreement to share a stadium at Tropical Park. The partnership with the FIU was essential as UM needed a public partner to proceed with the construction of the stadium. However, FIU President Maide chose to build a stadium on campus instead.

Now, fourteen years later, hopes to build a football stadium near UM may face similar challenges.

“Any change to a park would have to be approved by the majority of voters and Tropical Park is not for sale,” MDC Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said in a Feb. 9 interview with CBS4.

In practice, that means a county-wide referendum would determine the future of LifeWallet Park.

“I don’t think the county would vote against having a well-renewed public park with state-of-the-art technology,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz would rather the county wait to release a referendum because plans are still in their infancy. Currently, the stadium committee, a group of South Floridians led by Ruiz, is working with HKS Architects to create designs.

“I’m not against Tropical Park, I just don’t think it’s possible,” Shalala said. “There will be opposition from the neighborhood not because of traffic but because you occupy green space.”

While Shalala was president of UM, the Orange Bowl was in bad shape. The structure would sway during hurricanes. A group of UM engineering students visited the stadium and determined that the Orange Bowl was unsafe. While managing the transition from the Orange Bowl, Shalala proposed a stadium next to LoanDepot Park, but the city rejected the plan.

“There’s a mystique about the Orange Bowl in this venue that you won’t get at Tropical,” Shalala said.

Ruiz said building on the former Orange Bowl site was not an option. He said the LifeWallet Park would not be suitable and would not be as beneficial to the local community.

“Tropical Park really offers a suitable location because we’re not just looking for a stadium,” Ruiz said. “There are a lot of other aspects to it that become very supportive for the community as a whole. Many schools in Dade County do not have football fields.

Ruiz said he believes these amenities will best serve these schools and the greater Tropical Park community.

The plans of HKS Architects will be ready in the next few weeks. In the meantime, the debate about what will happen to Tropical Park continues and the community around the site continues to deliberate what they want.

“It’s a yes and a no. I want it to happen. I’m a University of Miami fan,” said Andy Dominguez, a father who spent 30 years coming to Tropical Park.

Dominguez said if he supported the construction of a new stadium, he feared losing the memories and amenities that make Tropical Park special to his community.

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