UM alumnus hopes to build Hurricane Football stadium in Tropical Park

The sun sets over the Miller Drive entrance at Tropical Park on Feb. 13, a long standing favorite for Miami-Dade residents.
The sun sets over the Miller Drive entrance at Tropical Park on Feb. 13, a long standing favorite for Miami-Dade residents. Photo credit: Patrick Mccaslin

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

Since the demolition of the Orange Bowl and move to Hard Rock stadium in 2008, UM fans, administration and athletes have vied for a more accessible stadium.

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

John H Ruiz, founder of the Stadium Committee, stands with co-chair of the committee, Diana Diaz.
John H Ruiz, founder of the Stadium Committee, stands with co-chair of the committee, Diana Diaz. Photo credit: Patrick Mccaslin

UM currently leases Hard Rock stadium, located 22-miles from campus and provides busing to UM student’s to watch home games.

“Our stadium is just not packed,” Kamren Kinchens, a sophomore safety on the Miami Hurricanes football team, said. “It’s too far for our students to drive 40 minutes to the stadium.”

The proposed stadium, called LifeWallet Stadium, would be a part of a bigger entity known as LifeWallet Park. Tropical Park in Olympia Heights, FL would be fully renovated to make way for this construction.

Tropical Park has long been a fixture of Miami-Dade County (MDC). A horse racing track from 1931-1972, the county eventually bought and expanded it into a 275-acre park. Today, it features a dog park, baseball fields, basketball courts, horse 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 LifeWallet Stadium, Ruiz said he hopes to build a new branch of Jackson Health, spaces for athletic training with audio-visual equipment and sites for “every sport that exists.”

“Everyone wants to do these grandiose plans, I just wanted a stadium that’s closer in, that’s built for a college team, that’s easy for college students to get into,” former president of UM and congresswoman, Donna Shalala said.

Tropical Park has long been a consideration for a new stadium location. In 2008, when the Orange Bowl was torn down, UM and Florida International University (FIU) had a tentative deal to share a stadium at Tropical Park. The partnership with FIU was essential because UM needed a public partner to proceed with constructing the stadium. However, FIU’s President Maidique opted to build an on campus stadium instead.

Now, fourteen years later, the hopes of building a football stadium near UM may face similar challenges.

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

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

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

Ruiz would prefer that the county wait on issuing a referendum because the plans are still in their early stages. Currently, the Stadium Committee, a group of South Floridians headed by Ruiz, is working with HKS Architects to create designs.

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

While Shalala was president of UM, the Orange Bowl was in disrepair. The structure would sway during hurricanes. A group of UM engineering students visited the stadium and determined the Orange Bowl was unsafe. As she managed the transition from the Orange Bowl, Shalala proposed a stadium next to LoanDepot Park but the city rebuked the plan.

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

Ruiz said that building on the old Orange Bowl site was not an option. He said the LifeWallet park wouldn’t fit nor would it be as beneficial to the local community.

“Tropical Park really provides a suitable location because we’re not just looking for a stadium,” Ruiz said. “There are a lot of other aspects to what becomes very favorable for the community as a whole. A lot of the Dade-County schools don’t have football fields.”

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

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

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

Dominguez said that while he supports the construction of a new stadium, he fears losing the memories and amenities that make Tropical Park special to his community.