Many changes are forthcoming for football fans in South Florida, where a major renovation is well underway at Sun Life Stadium—the home of the Miami Dolphins, Miami Hurricanes, and the Orange Bowl.
Since opening as Joe Robbie Stadium in 1987, Sun Life Stadium has been a fine facility for football—serving as the host of five Super Bowls, the last of which was Super Bowl XLIV.
While there had been some renovations during that time—including extensive changes to accommodate baseball’s Florida Marlins—the stadium has had the same look and feel for most of its history, prompting the NFL to state that Sun Life Stadium may not successfully bid for future Super Bowls if it could not be modernized.
That pushed Dolphins owner Stephen Ross to pursue a renovation that called for hundreds of millions in public funding. When it was clear that Miami-Dade County could not meet the team’s desires, Ross opted to privately finance a multi-phased upgrade to Sun Life Stadium, though the team can still collect bonuses from the county by hosting events such as the Super Bowl and World Cup qualifiers. The renovation’s final price tag could be at least $425 million; it is possible that the State of Florida will contribute $90 million in sales-tax dollars that would be dispersed at $3 million a year for 30 years.
The renovations—which began at the end of the 2014 season—are already apparent in many parts of the stadium. Every seat was removed and replaced, while the seating bowl has been reconfigured in an effort to make the facility more intimate. The lower level was expanded to provide more rows closer to the field, and the overall seating capacity was reduced from 76, 018 to 65,326. Among the other changes that have taken effect this season include revamped concessions, as well as new suite and premium seating options.
The next phase will greatly alter the stadium’s appearance by introducing what is arguably the crux of the project: a new canopy. In lieu of a dome or a retractable roof, Sun Life Stadium will feature an open-air canopy covering the vast majority of the seating bowl, but still allow for the elements to reach the natural-grass playing surface. The Dolphins estimate that 92 percent of fans will be protected by the canopy.
In a briefing with the media late last week, the Dolphins explained the importance of the canopy. More from the Sun-Sentinel:
After a fast-moving storm cell sent TV crews assembled Friday for an update on the second phase of the stadium makeover scurrying for cover, Bill Senn, who oversees the project for Dolphins owner Steve Ross, said, “Today is a perfect example about why we need a shade canopy on the stadium. Whether it’s rain or brilliant sunlight the canopy is going to provide a great deal of comfort for our patrons.”
It will also give the stadium a distinctive appearance when the new lid goes on the 28-year-old facility before next football season.
“It truly is going to change the entire dynamic and aesthetic of the stadium,” Senn said.
“There are a number of stadiums that do have canopies, but this one was designed particularly for the look that we were trying to achieve as well as to provide a great amenity to our fans. It will put 92 percent of our fans in shade on game day. It has 100 percent coverage over the seating.”
Work on the canopy has already begun, as steel supports are currently under construction. At the conclusion of the Dolphins’ season, construction crews will begin assembling the 672,000 square foot shade structure.
Though the canopy will be the most pronounced addition, it is not the lone amenity that will be added in 2016. By then, Sun Life Stadium will feature four new HD videoboards—double its current total—that will be supported by a new audio system. The space underneath each videoboard will be used for patio areas that will feature views of the field, as well as bars equipped with televisions. In addition, changes will be made to the club level and further concession upgrades will be in place.
One last round of changes will take place outside Sun Life Stadium before the 2017, season, which will see the introduction of bridges and tunnels in a renovated parking lot. All of these changes make it likely that Sun Life Stadium will host a Super Bowl in the near future. Miami has already been invited by the NFL to bid on Super Bowl LIII in 2019, and Super Bowl LIV the following year.