Marc Sarnoff: My concerns about the Ultra Music Festival

Crowd having tons of fun at the Ultra Music Festival in March.
Crowd having tons of fun at the Ultra Music Festival in March.

Despite objections by the mayor and myself grounded in safety and quality of life, the Miami City Commission has afforded Ultra Music Festival the use of Bayfront Park for a minimum of four weeks for the next four years, with the opportunity to request a two-weekend event as it did in 2013.

Regardless of the outcome, our discussion item produced great debate among the mayor, the commissioners and Ultra representatives as to the direction of the festival. I hope the exchange of ideas also educated the community, especially parents, to the possible dangers of visiting the festival. I also hope it can spur us to continue to create safer environments for our kids.

Ultra representatives showed the positive effects of the festival by playing a Japanese video promotion expressing a foreign nation’s interest in the festival. While Miami’s image to the world is important to me, my top priority is the residents and taxpayers who live in my district and who have entrusted me with their representation on the commission.

My office conducted a survey of almost 100 downtown businesses surrounding Bayfront Park, and asked three simple questions:

• Did Ultra Music Festival have a positive, neutral or negative effect on your business?

• Would you want to see the return of Ultra Music Festival to Bayfront Park?

• Do you have any other comments or concerns regarding Ultra Music Festival?

As for the response, 51 percent of the businesses said that the festival negatively affected their business and they did not want the festival to return. Only 22 percent called the presence of a positive effect.

The Downtown Neighbors Alliance, a resident association of downtown apartments, conducted a survey asking, among other questions, How did Ultra impact your life? Out of 1,177 responses, 48 percent replied that it negatively affected their lives, and only 21 percent felt the festival had a positive effect. I represent those homeowners who are held hostage in their homes during the weekend and those businesses that lose revenue. I could not and cannot let their voices or concerns fall on deaf ears.

Drug abuse at Ultra Music Festival is a serious and well-documented problem. It endangers the young people of Miami and visitors to our great city. The record of deaths and medical emergencies of the past two years is unacceptable, and I hope that Ultra representatives feel the same way.

It is impossible for me to endorse a festival that showcases Madonna on stage, asking the crowd, “Where’s Molly?” in reference to the drug MDMA, or where photos and videos of lewd and lascivious acts by our children litter social-media websites as representation of our great city. It is not within my capacity as an elected official, or as a representative of the good, honest, hard-working people of Miami to allow this to continue without opposition.

I challenge Ultra Music Festival to change its beat, and to their credit, its representatives seem to be receptive to the one dozen well-reasoned ideas that I brought to the commission. The hiring of Miami Beach Police Chief Ray Martinez to reassess the festival’s security is a step in the right direction, and so is the resolution taking a zero-tolerance stance on drug use and adding more police officers.

Mental-health stations are also a good step for those who feel overloaded from their partying and need immediate respite. However, I think the most important change, and one my colleagues on the Miami City Commission should have pushed harder for, is to set an age limit for entry to the festival. This is not a festival for everyone. It is irresponsible to allow minors to gain entrance to an area where drugs and alcohol are easily accessible. I hope Ultra organizers do the right thing and keep minors away from such a potentially dangerous environment.

As a final condition, Ultra should indemnify the city of Miami for all claims, which essentially means that all deaths and injuries allegedly sustained in the festival are to be defended and paid for by Ultra. That promise is only as good as the insurance Ultra can purchase or its shareholders allow.

Ultra has lost much of its insurance because of previous allegations against the city, so Ultra should be required to post a $2 million bond with the city to truthfully back its pledge of indemnity.

Marc Sarnoff represents District 2 on the Miami City Commission.

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