The Miami Dolphins plan to install a gondola next to Hard Rock Stadium similar to the one pictured here. Doppelmayr, an Austrian manufacturer, will produce the attraction. (Courtesy Miami Dolphins)

New attraction part of fan experience for Super Bowl, Miami Open

The Miami Open tennis tournament is still one month away, but Miami Dolphins Vice Chairman, President and CEO Tom Garfinkel is already thinking ahead to next year’s event at Hard Rock Stadium.

The open, which was launched in 1985 and is among the few combined events on the ATP and WTA tour calendars, moves this year to the NFL facility. The Dolphins signed a 30-year deal with event producer IMG to host the tournament.

To further improve the fan experience for 2020, the Dolphins plan to install a permanent sky ride attraction outside the stadium so patrons can get a bird’s eye view of the action below.

“I had the idea a year ago, but we didn’t get it done in time for this year,” Garfinkel said. “It will start going in after this year’s tournament. We’ll put in a gondola that goes 100 feet above the crowd. It’s less of a transportation thing and more of a novelty to be up above the tennis and the crowd. We’ll have it in place (first) for Super Bowl next year.”

Super Bowl LIV is set for Feb. 2, 2020 at the stadium.

Garfinkel first got the idea from riding the gondola at Summerfest, the big music festival held every year in Milwaukee.

“Twenty-five years ago, I was up there in the gondola, looking down at the center of the grounds. I thought to myself (for stadium events), ‘How do you get above the crowd for people to see and be seen?’ It’s going to duplicate Summerfest.”

The Dolphins will spend about $3 million on the installation and are working with a company called Doppelmayr, an Austrian firm that produces gondolas for ski resorts worldwide.

At Hard Rock Stadium, the gondola will be part of the tennis complex outside the stadium along the south side. It will extend 1,800 feet, said Todd Staley, the Dolphins’ vice president of stadium construction. The ride will be about a 10-minute round trip. The project is in the early stages of design, and rider capacity and fees have not been determined, Garfinkel said.

For the Miami Open, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross invested $60 million to convert the stadium into a full-service tennis venue, featuring a 14,000-seat center court inside the seating bowl. The conversion to tennis at an NFL stadium is unprecedented. Some parking lots next to the stadium have been converted to tournament and practice courts, hospitality areas and landscaped spaces.

It’s all part of a massive transformation of the stadium and overall property that began with a multiyear, $600 million overhaul of the 32-year-old facility. This year’s Miami Open, scheduled for March 18-31, is the latest effort by the Dolphins to position the stadium as a multipurpose venue.

More projects are in the works. The Dolphins plan to build a $100 million practice facility next to the stadium, designed by Rossetti, the same architect involved in the Miami Open retrofit. Construction will start after the tournament, and the practice facility will open by February 2021.

Team officials are close to signing a naming-rights deal for the building, Garfinkel said. The Dolphins’ current practice facility and training camp is in Davie, about 12 miles north of Hard Rock Stadium.

On the stadium’s west side, the glass block facade, the final piece of the exterior that still has the look of the original design, will be “dressed up to match the rest of the stadium,” Garfinkel said. Work starts after the Rolling Stones concert April 20 at the stadium.

In the parking lots, which span a total of 375 acres, pedestrian tunnels and bridges are starting to take shape to help ease congestion on NFL game days. The project should be completed by the coming football season.

Apart from the practice facility, the Dolphins are marketing cornerstone partnerships for Hard Rock Stadium’s northwest and southwest entrances. Verizon and University of Miami Health System sponsor the northeast and southeast gates. The stadium’s four corners are anchored by videoboards, similar to MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

“With the practice facility going in and the tennis tournament, those entrances are a lot more valuable than they were a year ago,” Garfinkel said. “It’s really been Steve’s commitment and vision that’s made all this possible.”