Covid-19 delays much vaunted Inter Miami game



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Inter Miami Training Facility - March 2020 update Image: Inter Miami CF/Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald

The American professional soccer club Inter Miami CF welcomed more than 3,000 season-ticket holders to an open training session held recently at the Inter Miami CF Stadium which opened its gates on March 14, 2020. The stadium has been built in place of the demolished Lockhart Stadium at Fort Lauderdale in Florida, US.

Inter Miami CF began play in Major League Soccer (MLS) in the 2020 season at Inter Miami CF Stadium, the site of the former Lockhart Stadium.

However, the club’s long-awaited home opener against American professional soccer club L.A. Galaxy on March 14 this year at Inter Miami CF Stadium has been postponed. MLS announced that it has suspended its season for a minimum of 30 days as coronavirus outbreak continues with its fatal form.

Inter Miami CF fans might have to wait at least another month before MLS is played in South Florida.

The announcement comes on the heels of the National Basketball Association (NBA) suspending play until further notice to “determine next steps for moving forward in regard to the coronavirus pandemic”. The National Hockey League (NHL) has also suspended play and MLB has canceled the remainder of spring training and postponed the start of the regular season by at least two weeks.

Inter Miami CF owner Jorge Mas stated, “Obviously with the anticipation of playing on March 14, there was disappointment among the players and manager. They were all looking forward to opening at home in front of what was going to be and is going to be a raucous crowd when we open. These are situations and circumstances that are beyond our control and our hands.”

He further said, “This is just a postponement. Hopefully four to five weeks from now we’ll have our opening day here in South Florida and make the dream a reality once more.”

The 19,000-seat stadium has been developed in eight months, with the first roof structure being successfully fitted back in November. Inter currently intends to play its first two seasons at the stadium, which is part of a wider $140m (£108.4m/€123.6m) complex that will house its training base on a long-term basis.

The club’s permanent home ground will be the proposed 25,000 seat soccer-specific stadium – Miami Freedom Park. The $1bn project is currently in the planning stages and apart from the stadium, is earmarked to include one of the city’s largest public parks and a tech hub, among other components like retail space, hotels, restaurants, and a training center to be built in Miami, Florida.

In October, MLS Commissioner Don Garber was at odds with Miami authorities over the entire process surrounding the delivery of the stadium. Garber spoke out amid ongoing unease over securing a stadium for a franchise that was initially formed in 2014, before being ratified in January 2018.

The temporary stadium solution for Inter Miami CF was designed by MANICA Architecture.

David Manica, MANICA’s Principal and Founder, stated, “Inter Miami Stadium in Lockhart was designed and constructed in 10 months. It utilized pre-engineered seating systems and highly strategic design and construction methods in order to accelerate the entire delivery schedule and lower costs. I believe it represents a new benchmark for high-quality stadiums that can be delivered in a short amount of time – at a very reasonable cost per seat.”

Inter Miami CF Stadium is a soccer stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on the site of the former Lockhart Stadium. The stadium is the temporary home of Inter Miami CF until the completion of Miami Freedom Park in Miami.

Within a span of eight months, a modern, colorful venue with club suites and state-of-art video boards sprung up in place of the demolished Lockhart Stadium, which was abandoned and overgrown with weeds after 40 years as the home of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, Miami Fusion, and Florida Atlantic University football team.

Team captain and goalkeeper Luis Robles got a standing ovation during the training session, and then told the ecstatic fans, “We need 90 minutes of energy and passion and we’ll get three points together.”

All three supporters’ groups – Southern Legion, The Siege and Vice City 1896 (the year Miami was founded) chanted and waved giant flags from the south stands during the training session.

The new stadium is part of a $140 million, 64-acre privately-funded soccer complex that includes a 50,000 square-foot team training facility, one of the largest in Major League Soccer. It boasts locker rooms, gym, an underwater treadmill, cafeteria, offices, meeting rooms and media work space. The grounds include six lighted natural grass soccer fields and a turf field with 1,500 seats for high school and community sporting events.

Inter Miami plans to play its first two seasons (maybe three) at the stadium until its proposed Miami Freedom Park venue is done. The Fort Lauderdale complex will serve as its permanent training ground. It will also house the club’s minor-league United Soccer League team and the youth academy. Foreign teams have toured the facilities and are expected to use the site for training and friendly matches.

Season-ticket holder Albert Gamarra of Weston felt nostalgic as he looked around the newly built stadium, “It’s been 40 years since I was here with my father for the Strikers games. This is a big deal. I love this venue. We waited a long time for this.”

Don Lockerbie of Miami-based The Parker Company, a global leader in sports venues including Olympics, World Cups, and over 400 stadiums – was primarily in charge of Inter Miami’s soccer complex construction. His company was hired to renovate the former stadium in 1997 by Fusion owner Ken Horowitz 93 days before the season opener when the team’s deal with the Orange Bowl fell through. With a $5 million budget back then, Lockerbie added 13,000 seats to bring Lockhart to 20,000, expanded the press box and added suite tents.

This time, the project was much more elaborate and an expensive affair.

Said Lockerbie, “It’s a race to the finish. We knew it was a challenge to get this all done in eight months, but we also believed it was a challenge that could be done.”

Lockerbie said he is personally responsible for ‘F, F, and E’ – furniture, fixtures and equipment – “F, F and E are always the last to go in any stadium, any building, whether you build a hotel, a stadium, a movie theater, you wait until construction is done and things are clean and lockable, and in comes the furniture.”

Half of the training facility is complete. The other half will be completed soon. The team has been using the gym, locker rooms, dining area, team medical space, and tactics room. Still to be completed are the visiting locker rooms and staff offices.

“A lot of times, the best day a stadium has is its first day because the spectators come in and make it their own. I’ve been involved in stadiums for 40 years, and I couldn’t be prouder. We always knew this was the first home for the team. It will always be that. We’ve attacked it as though it’s the stadium they’ll be proud to play in and win in for a long time. Whatever happens in Miami happens, but for right now, this is the only team stadium, next to the training center. It’s a great home,” stated a proud Lockerbie.

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