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The Best Option for University of Miami’s Own Stadium: Sunset Place

A dying shopping mall across from campus is Miami’s best stadium option that nobody is mentioning

Georgia Tech v Miami
Our old home
Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images

Outside observers of the U are OBSESSED with Miami’s lack of on-campus stadium. And it sure is inconvenient for students to make the 20 mile, 40 minutes without traffic, drive to Hard Rock Stadium. But would a stadium close to the main Coral Gables campus really fill the large swaths of empty seats we see on TV?

Doubtful. Miami has a fairly modest 12,000 undergraduate students. 19,000 total students. Filling a 65,000 seat NFL stadium requires more than a few thousand more undergrads. But it would help. Plus, a much higher percentage of Miami supporters are a 20 minute drive from Coral Gables than a 20 minute drive from Hard Rock stadium on the border of Broward County.

What Miami needs is a modern, but smaller than Hard Rock, stadium that’s closer to its core supporters in order to consistently fill 80%+ of the seats. Something like UCF’s Bounce House (~48,000 capacity) would be an ideal size, but it would need to be a bit satisfy Miami attendees.

At the start of the season, Miami mega-booster John Ruiz commissioned some slick artistic renderings of a proposed University of Miami stadium at Tropical Park.

Tropical Park lies a mere 3 miles down Miller Road from campus. It’s also just off the Palmetto Expressway, so there’s a major thoroughfare to get fans in and out of the area. BUT a) it’s still not on campus; b) it’s also not near any other commercial developments, which would require developing the area’s parking and commercial venues similar to what’s occurring with David Beckham’s stadium; and c) speaking of Beckham’s stadium, it seems doubtful that Miami-Dade County would have an appetite to negotiate another stadium being placed on public land. Filmmaker Billy Corben, creator of ESPN’s 30 for 30 “The U” and a recent mini-documentary slamming the new Miami Freedom Park soccer stadium, poo-pooed on Ruiz’s proposal.

There is another viable option and it’s right across from campus.

Sunset Place is essentially caddy corner to the University of Miami, just across US 1 at Red Road. The outdoor mall opened in 1999 and features an AMC Movie Theater, a bowling alley, a Game Time arcade, and that’s about it. It’s a dying mall with several anchor tenant stores and restaurants sitting vacant. In 2019, the ownership group charged with revitalizing Cocowalk bought a super majority stake in Sunset Place, but not much has happened since other than more stores closing.

Why not partner with the University of Miami and the City of South Miami to build a stadium there?

The first question has to be: would a stadium fit? The answer is yes, although it may require also buying a few properties on the south side of Sunset Drive.

Proposed Stadium Plot

Above is a Google Maps screenshot of the area, and the red-box area could fit a football stadium.

Here’s FIU’s Football Stadium (seating capacity 23,500) overlayed on the area.

FIU Stadium overlayed on Sunset Place

Fits like a charm if you extend it over Sunset Drive, with room to the north and south to add seating well above what’s at FIU. Would extending the stadium over Sunset Drive be a problem? Hopefully not since there’s only 2 or 3 property owners in that area to negotiate with aside from Sunset Place. And in case you’re wondering, the triangular land area to the west would be tough to acquire because there’s something like a dozen property owners there. Any one holdout would gunk up those plans. Better to leave that intact and look to the south.

The other big issues are traffic and parking. One benefit this site has that neither Tropical Park nor Hard Rock have is proximity to the Metro Rail. Like the Orange Bowl, fans could park at any rail station and take a short ride to the stadium. As for on-site parking, there’s numerous areas for surface lots and parking garages BESIDES the parking that’s already available on campus.

Orange is a proposed stadium, Green is existing or proposed parking

The three boxes on the bottom are two existing surface parking lots plus a City of South Miami parking garage. To the left is Metrorail parking. To the top and right are sites that already include, or could include, parking garages or surface lots. This is all in addition to the parking available on campus.

Aside from the location being closer to campus, the greatest improvement over Hard Rock would be the surrounding atmosphere. Just steps from the stadium would be numerous shops and eateries awaiting event attendees. This is an actual urban setting unlike the parking lots of Hard Rock. And did I mention this is right across from campus?

Look, I’m not naïve. Purchasing private land is way, way more expensive than building on public land like Inter Miami and the Miami Marlins. This is probably too expensive for the University of Miami, even if it somehow partners with these private land owners rather than just outright purchasing the land. But then again, every decade UM embarks on another multi-billion dollar fundraising campaign. If Miami can buy an entire hospital, surely it can snatch up a dying shopping mall so it can have its own stadium. The funds theoretically could be raised, and UM could finally have a football stadium just steps from campus. If it wants.