South Beach’s annual Memorial Day weekend bash was a remarkable success, a big dud, or somewhere in between, depending on who’s asked.
But after more than a decade of controversy, Miami Beach officials appear to have found a crowd enforcement formula they and residents are finally happy with.
“I’m very pleased with how everything went,” Police Chief Raymond Martinez said Monday morning.
Urban Beach Week, South Beach’s hip-hop-driven holiday weekend, has been a polarizing event for years. And last year it erupted in police gunfire that killed a man wounded four bystanders after a confrontation with a driver police said was armed
This year, Miami Beach police – predicting many arrests and a large crowds for a five-day event that has drawn estimates of 250,000 people in the past - stepped up enforcement efforts.
Neither prediction came true.
As of Monday morning, police had arrested 321 people during the weekend compared to 332 during the same period last year, according to police spokesman Sgt. Bobby Hernandez. He said police had also received about 600 fewer emergency calls compared to 2011.
And, while neither city nor police officials would give crowd estimates, everyone agreed South Beach was obviously slower than last year.
Marlo Courtney, managing director for Goldman Properties, said spending and hotel occupancy were down at Goldman’s South Beach hotels, which include The Hotel and The Park Central on Ocean Drive. But he said he was fine with the subdued crowds after last year’s chaotic finale.
“It was a weekend under control,” he said.
City residents also happily greeted the smaller crowds and increased police presence. At a Starbucks on Pennsylvania Avenue and Lincoln Road, Carlos Rodriguez, 47, said locals “felt like hostages” last year.
“This year, so calm. I slept like a king,” he said.
And if the Urban Beach Week crowd doesn‘t return next year?
“F--- them. We don’t need them.”
Mayor Matti Herrera Bower wasn’t so blunt but was equally pleased.
“After last year, everybody was upset. I said I would have a lot of implementation and zero tolerance,” she said. “I think it worked. We got stronger. We did all the right things.”
Visitors to Miami Beach were greeted by a DUI checkpoint, a purposefully bottlenecked MacArthur Causeway to slow traffic, license tag readers and watch towers. After midnight, as crowds gathered on Ocean Drive, a helicopter borrowed from the federal government hovered overhead.
Expectations of a police crackdown became so prevalent in the days leading up to Urban Beach Weekend that a law firm pasted a “Got arrested?” advertisement to a muscle car and sent it driving in the one-way traffic loop.
Some business owners blamed the police tactics for a precipitous drop in crowds and income this weekend.
“If they’re going to do this again, I would seriously consider closing my business down next year,” said Gary Sanon-Jules, general manager of Tap Tap, a Haitian restaurant on Fifth Street. Sanon-Jules said he paid for extra staff and security this weekend, only to see his business plunge by a third, compared to last year.
If Tap Tap closed, it would only be joining a group of businesses that no longer cater to Urban Beach Week crowds. Osteria del Teatro on Washington Avenue was closed all weekend and Collins Avenue’s Jerry’s Famous Deli, which boasts an “Open 24 Hours” sign above its door, was locked Sunday evening following a Miami New Times report that the restaurant tried to act as an unpermitted nightclub.
When a reporter tried to enter the Delano hotel this weekend, a concierge said the hotel only allowed hotel guests inside after 6 p.m.
John de Leon, president of the Greater Miami Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said pulling the welcome mat from a largely black crowd is a step backwards, particularly for a tourist-driven community like South Beach.
“If success is measured by keeping people out of South Beach, a tourist Mecca, then this event was a success,” he said.
Miami Herald staff writer Alejandro Bolivar and photographer C.W. Griffin contributed to this report.