Boat Show Insider

Virginia Key will be the new home of the Miami International Boat Show.

Miami Boat Show, Miami Marine Stadium
Virginia Key will be the new home of the Progressive Insurance Miami International Boat Show for 2016.Courtesy NMMA

Cathy Rick-Joule looked at the letter. She blinked. Again. She’d spent two decades managing the [Miami International Boat Show][] for the [National Marine Manufacturers Association][], and she’d heard rumblings about the city wanting to renovate the nearly 60-year-old Miami Beach Convention Center. The boat show had been held there since 1969. It had endured the renovation in the 1980s. “We thought this would be very similar,” she says. Until she received that letter. “It said, ‘Just letting you know, we’ll be reaching out to talk about the renovation — and oh, by the way, there’s a list of shows that will be protected during construction,’” she says. “And the boat show wasn’t on this list.”

The $500 million renovation would not be done until 2018. To remain there during construction would have required shrinking the boat show by 80 percent. Thus began the NMMA’s search for a new home as Miami’s premier boat show prepared to celebrate its 75th year in 2016.

The NMMA, with the city, is moving the show to Virginia Key, specifically to Miami Marine Stadium Park & Basin. The site has been unused since Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and the effort required has been like trying to lift Mount Everest and shove it over by 6 inches.

Miami Boat Show, Miami Marine Stadium
An overhead rendering (top) of the newly designed footprint for the Progressive Insurance Miami International Boat Show.Courtesy NMMA

The city is investing $16 million to $20 million in infrastructure, such as plumbing, electrical wiring and fresh asphalt, for the show (and other events), and the NMMA is using the opportunity to re-imagine the entire show experience. All-new everything is being created, even the docks where 100,000 boat lovers will browse.

While the new show will be about the same size as the convention-center version — about a million square feet — a greater amount of the space will be in-water displays. Around 440 boats will be in the water this year, with room for more in the future.

“For the most part, we’ve retained virtually all of our exhibitors, and many of our boat manufacturers are adding a larger in-water component for the first time,” Rick-Joule says. “The engine guys are delighted. Their tent, G tent, folks can walk right past there and see all the engines, then walk right over and see all the kinds of boats that they power.”

The NMMA is also using the move to address the two biggest complaints it always received about the previous location: poor parking and dining options.

In terms of parking, the previous venue had about 200 exhibitor parking spaces and 2,500 nearby spots for attendees that were iffy at best. Sometimes they were driveways local homeowners rented out for the weekend.

This year, the show moves to its new home on Virginia Key near Miami Marine Stadium. Next, the show plans to support efforts to restore the stadium itself — so scenes like this become reality.

Now, there will be 4,000 dedicated spaces on Virginia Key alone for exhibitors, plus VIP parking and a valet for attendees.

“All of that will be pre-issued,” Rick-Joule says. “You’ll have a hangtag ahead of time and come through the boat-show lanes over Rickenbacker Causeway.”

Other attendees can use the 10,000 parking spaces in downtown Miami that the show will service by shuttle bus and water taxi. There will be at least 14 parking venues, all with advance purchase available now through ParkJockey online.

“So this year, when you leave your house, you can have your boat-show tickets and your parking already sorted out,” Rick-Joule says, adding that hotels listed on the show’s website will have QR codes that people can scan with smartphones. “If you’re in the lobby at the Hyatt, it will tell you to go out the front lobby and take a right, and you’ll see the water taxi or the valet line for the shuttle bus.”

Miami Boat Show, Miami Marine Stadium Map
The four show venues include: The Progressive Insurance Miami International Boat Show, Strictly sail, Yachts Miami Beach and The new Superyacht Miami venue.Eric Powell

When it's mealtime, new options will be available through Specialty Restaurants Corporation, which manages the Rusty Pelican and Whiskey Joe's on Virginia Key. (See "Food Gets a Face-Lift.") The idea with food, as with parking, is to let boating enthusiasts enjoy the show in a whole new manner.

“People have the ability to control their experience in a very different way,” she says. “They should be online getting their hotels in downtown Miami, booking their parking and getting their show tickets. It’s more like a sporting event now. You can choose where you want to park, take a water taxi and go. You can have it all before you leave your home.”

What's in a Name?: The National Trust for Historic Preservation calls Miami Marine Stadium the Commodore Ralph Middleton Munroe Marine Stadium. Munroe designed the 28-foot sharpie- lifeboat Egret and was a friend of Nathanael Herreshoff.

The Value of Money: When the stadium was built in 1963, it cost just $1 million to complete construction. An additional $900,000 was spent dredging the basin so powerboats could race there.

Building a New Marina: Pennsylvania-based Bellingham Marine is building the all-new, temporary marina that will host the Progressive Insurance Miami International Boat Show at Virginia Key. Special attention is being paid to the use of eco-friendly materials, from the flotation units to the deck boards.

Back in 1969: That was the last time the show needed a new home. It began a 46-year run at the convention center.