HomeArts & EntertainmentMarine Stadium, manatees, the Everglades – Jimmy Buffett championed them all

Marine Stadium, manatees, the Everglades – Jimmy Buffett championed them all

Jimmy Buffett and his Coral Reefer Band turned his hit song “Margaritaville” and beach-bum aesthetic into an empire of restaurants, resorts, planned communities and cruise ships across North America.

He also turned his celebrity into a powerful voice for numerous causes – especially the environment.

Yet, Buffett – who died Friday at 76 of an aggressive form of skin cancer – couldn’t save one place he adored: Miami Marine Stadium on Virginia Key. It was the site of his legendary 1985 concert memorialized in the concert video Live at the Bay.

“It’s a symbol of everything that’s great about Florida – boats, music, water and great Florida fun,” Buffett said in a 2009 public service announcement to preserve the venue. “The stadium deserves a future.”

Buffett called that show one of the greatest he ever performed in South Florida. Fans not only filled the stadium but watched the show from the bay on boats and kayaks.

A staunch fanbase developed around Buffett. Dubbed “Parrotheads,” his fans’ enthusiasm is evident in the concert filmed at Marine Stadium.

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The singer formed Friends of Marine Stadium and urged the public to lobby officials for its renovation. He and Gloria Estefan spoke at a fundraising gala for the Coral Gables Museum in 2013, sharing their memories of Miami Marine Stadium.

The stadium was once the home to world-class events such as concerts and speedboat races. The city condemned it after Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida in 1992.

Miami officials said they were close to securing the $45 million for the 1963 Modernist historic landmark three years ago. Then city officials floated a bond issue but that was tabled last year. There has even been architectural renderings of a renovation replete with a floating stage.

Today, it stands as a graffiti-adorned ghost facing the Miami skyline.

“I’m not sure that it’s going to happen because every time it gets close, it backs up,” said Miami attorney Stuart Z. Grossman, a friend of Buffett’s. “I think that that’s the best way to wear out a charity or professional endeavor.”

In this Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018 photo, Miami Marine Stadium sits derelict on Virginia Key, in Miami. The stadium was once the home to world-class events such as concerts and speedboat races. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Grossman met Buffett as a season ticket-holder of the Miami Heat. They had seats together – though Buffett once got removed from a game for heckling a referee – and the pair would go fishing in Key West.

He said both were frustrated that Miami has yet to renovate the stadium. 

“That’s the most prime piece of real estate. You got the skyline, you’ve got depth for dock space. It’s just sitting there unused,” Grossman said.

The attorney said the stadium was just one of Buffett’s many philanthropic efforts – including putting millions toward trying to preserve coral reefs and saving the manatees. 

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“He was just a good man who cared a lot about the environment,” said Melissa White, executive director of the Key Biscayne Community Foundation. “He tried to pay things forward.”

Friends of Everglades released a statement Saturday praising Buffett for joining its board in 2005 and establishing the Save the Manatee club. 

“His talent and adoration for the Everglades and Florida’s way of life will remain unmatched,” the organization said.

Buffett also has a tiny sea creature named after him. Scientists at University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School named a new creature discovered for him, an isopod now called Gnathia jimmybuffetti.

Buffett in 2018 said, “It’s pretty simple, we live in paradise, and paradise is in peril. We need to have a little more attention about the place where we grew up, and where our children should grow up. It’s not that hard, it really isn’t.”

Buffett also was a keen businessman who left behind an empire. 

Among his many brands are Landshark Lager and, true to form, Buffett brokered a deal for the Miami Dolphins to name their venue Land Shark Stadium for one season.

“We’re going to be associated with Jimmy Buffett forever,” Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said at the time.

In this Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018 photo, Miami Marine Stadium sits derelict on Virginia Key. (AP Photo/Lynne Slyadky)

Buffett’s evolving brand began in 1985 with the opening of a string of Margaritaville-themed stores and restaurants in Key West, followed in 1987 with the first Margaritaville Café nearby. 

Over the course of the next two decades, several more of each opened throughout Florida, New Orleans and California.

The brand has since expanded to dozens of categories, including resorts, apparel and footwear for men and women, a radio station, a beer brand, ice tea, tequila, rum, home décor and salad dressing.

There were Margaritaville-themed cruise ships, resorts and even senior communities. There also was a Broadway-bound jukebox musical, “Escape to Margaritaville.”

The song itself was released on Feb. 14, 1977 from the album Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes and spent 22 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, peaking at No. 8. 

“There was no such place as Margaritaville,” Buffett told the Arizona Republic in 2021. “It was a made-up place in my mind, basically made up about my experiences in Key West.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.

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