The beating sun can quickly turn to pounding rain-filled thunderstorms in Miami. That dichotomy of weather has for 15 years meant the East Plaza at the Heat’s AmericanAirlines Arena was underused, as the concourse-connected area lay exposed to the open air.
That all changes this year when a solar-filled canopy covers the plaza, completely converting the ticketed space within the arena and giving Heat fans a new gameday experience.
The 23,000 square foot plaza has plenty going for it: size, views of the ship channel, and a connection to the 100-level concourse sandwiched between an entrance gate, restaurants, and the practice court.
“You have a view of the water, but the problem with it is it is either too hot or too wet to activate,” Heat’s chief revenue officer John Vidalin tells SI.com.
The solution comes this year as the Heat partnered with NRG to create a new canopy of white steel with circular solar arrays. “We wanted to find an elegant solution and not just cover it,” Vidalin says. “We wanted something that fit with the architecture of the building, fit in Miami, and was unique and iconic.”
More than a dozen circular glass openings in the canopy provide plenty of architectural intrigue while keeping the plaza open-air. To fill what will become the XFinity East Plaza, the Heat will keep with its recent LEED Gold recertification and use furniture made from recycled milk jugs to match the power-generation from the solar array.
“One thing we strive to do is educate the community and be a showpiece and inspire them to implement some (sustainable) initiatives in their own home,” Jackie Ventura, the Heat’s head of operations and sustainability, tells SI.com. “It shows these solar panels aren’t big clunky rectangles you slap on your roof and that recycled milk jugs can be made into beautiful pieces of furniture.”
The Heat will offer up everything from a side table made of 64 milk jugs to a sofa constructed from 584 milk jugs.
XFinity will fill the area with a giant X1 video wall for showing the game, fantasy sports content, and more. The space will also have the only free WiFi in the building, and the concourse will spill into the East Plaza with Bacardi and other partners expanding the food and beverage options. The space will open for concerts and group rentals when fans aren’t streaming through on gamedays.
“The whole gameday experience has expanded,” Vidalin says. “Fans can experience different things in an outdoor environment that is very authentic to South Florida.”
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, sneakers and design for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.