Despite concerns about traffic and drug use, the Miami City Commission will allow the Ultra Music Festival to add a second weekend to this year’s festivities.
Commission Chairman Marc Sarnoff had tried to quash the second weekend, citing complaints from downtown business owners who consider the electronic music festival to be disruptive. But other commissioners argued that Miami should — on a trial basis — support the expanded event, which is expected to draw more than 300,000 concert-goers to Bayfront Park in March.
Sweetening the deal: Ultra offered Thursday to give the city $500,000 to help pay for extra police and fire services.
Sarnoff did, however, have success with an unrelated proposal to expand the police department by 100 officers.
Though no formal vote was taken, a majority of commission members and Mayor Tomás Regalado expressed support for the initiative, and City Manager Johnny Martinez said he would draft a detailed plan for recruiting and hiring new officers.
The additional personnel would boost the department’s ranks to 1,244 sworn officers, and better align Miami’s ratio of police to residents with cities like Baltimore, Atlanta and Memphis.
“If we are ever going to become the great city that we claim we are going to become, we need to do at a minimum what Philadelphia does,” Sarnoff said, noting that Philadelphia employs 4.3 officers for every 1,000 citizens, compared to the 2.6 officers for every 1,000 citizens in Miami.
To get to that level, Sarnoff wants to add 300 officers over the next three years.
It won’t be easy. Miami is already 50 officers shy of the 1,144 officers covered by the budget. City officials blame the shortage on administrative hiccups, and the fact that Miami must adhere to special guidelines from the Department of Justice when recruiting new officers.
Regalado said streamlining the process for hiring police could require a change to the city charter. If that is the case, he said, it would have to wait until the next election.
But Police Chief Manuel Orosa said the city could reasonably hire between 150 and 200 new officers in 2013 by adding a few additional police academy instructors.
“Parts of our city are becoming more vertical,” Orosa said. “You need more officers to cover the density.”
Orosa estimated that the salaries for 100 new officers would cost about $7.4 million a year. There would be additional costs for the officers’ pensions, insurance, uniforms, cars and fuel, he said.
The commission would need to formally approve the additional expenses.
Commissioner Francis Suarez said any new revenues the city generates should go to policing. “It’s a critical need in the city,” he said.
Public safety also factored into the debate about Ultra, which had been approved for the second weekend by the Bayfront Park Management Trust, but needed a nod from the commission. The festival had already begun selling tickets for both weekends.
Sarnoff said there were 71 arrests during last year’s festival, and raised concerns about concert-goers taking illegal drugs like Ecstasy and LSD.
On Thursday, Ultra organizers promised to hire more off-duty police officers and fine tune their crowd-control plan.
The commission decided to give Ultra two weekends — but only on a trial basis.Commissioner Frank Carollo made the case for the festival, saying it is an economic driver that appeals to an international audience .
“If [the second weekend] has a negative impact, I’ll be the first one saying this is never going to happen again,” he said.
In other business, the commission awarded a controversial $7.6 million contract to FHP Tectonics Corp. to build a promenade at Museum Park.
Procurement officials had initially recommended the contract go to Munilla Construction Co., which was given special consideration because it said it had an office within Miami city limits. FHP is based in Illinois.
But after a messy bid protest, chief procurement officer Kenneth Robertson determined that MCM had not paid the tax required to run a business at that location, and thus could not be considered a “local” bidder.
MCM insisted it had paid the tax, just as it had on its South Miami offices.
Adding an extra layer of intrigue, Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro was running his reelection campaign out of the Little Havana office in question. Barreiro said he rented the space from MCM, and that MCM officials worked alongside his campaign staff.
Late last month, Robertson reversed course and recommended the contract go to FHP Tectonics. The commission signed off on the recommendation Thursday, but agreed that the rules governing local preference ought to be revisited.