Miami Beach

Miami Beach may legalize liquor on the beach

Frosty, alcoholic drinks are a mainstay on the sand in Miami Beach. They’re also illegal, according to the city.

But maybe not for much longer.

Miami Beach commissioners on Wednesday may take up a years-old discussion about whether to allow ocean-side alcohol sales.

City staff have recommended moving forward with a suggestion by the Neighborhood and Community Affairs Committee to legalize “the sale, service, possession and consumption of alcoholic beverages within designated approved beach concession” areas.

An approval from the City Commission would simply authorize staffers to start talks with the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association and other local stakeholders — including residents — to come up with new rules.

Commissioner Jerry Libbin said Tuesday that he plans to ask for a deferral of the discussion. He wants residents, hoteliers and Ocean Drive merchants to work together to draft a sensible approach to dealing with drinking on the beach.

“We’re not talking about expansion, and setting up renegade bars on the beach. ...We’re talking about something that’s been going on for umpteen years,” Libbin said.

Not on the table, according to Libbin: whether to allow beachgoers to bring their own coolers of booze.

Beachgoers could drink only beverages purchased from licensed sellers — presumably the hotels — and drinks would have to be consumed in specified areas. To-go cups would not be allowed, he added.

He added that the proposed regulations would place certain responsibilities on hotels.

“You can’t serve too much alcohol. You have to keep the place clean. You’ll be legally liable,” Libbin said.

Currently, hotels in Miami Beach openly ferry beers and cocktails to patrons lounging on beach chairs, even though City Attorney Jose Smith rendered a legal opinion in 2010 that doing so is against city code and against the hotels’ concession agreements with the city.

Enforcement was put on hold until the city decided what to do about hotels serving liquor to beachgoers.

Despite the ongoing sales, resident activists have sent emails to commissioners to urge them not to legalize the practice, saying beach boozers leave behind litter and create a ruckus.

“Drunks on the beach are a terrific advertisement for our city, are they not? (Note that this is sarcasm...) I see more and more tourists with children on our beach. Why expose this positive tourist element to rowdy, out of control drunks?” resident Jo Manning wrote to commissioners.

Alex Tachmes, an attorney who represents dozens of Miami Beach hotels, wouldn’t comment on the current legality of serving drinks on the beach, but said his clients welcome the discussion.

Being able to enjoy a glass of wine or margarita on the sand, he said, is expected of international resort communities like Miami Beach.

“It’s something that tourists expect to be able to do when they’re staying a hotel paying $500 a night,” Tachmes said.

Yet to be worked out: how the city would levy fees on hotels if alcohol sales are allowed. City documents show that staffers are considering charging a minimum guarantee or a percentage of sales.

The latter, Tachmes said, “is not going to resonate well with our tourism industry.”

Follow @Cveiga on Twitter.

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