High above Miami Beach, U.S. Army soldiers gliding underneath golden parachutes will see it all: the swollen streets, the partiers, the sun-tanned souls on South Beach.
The U.S. Army Parachute Team, making its debut over Memorial Day Weekend, marks a new direction for the island city. City leaders, who for years contended with a wave of negative publicity, including a hail of police bullets that left one man dead on Collins Avenue in the pre-dawns hours of Memorial Day six years ago, are rebranding the Beach.
They’re asking residents and other South Floridians to enjoy new family-fun activities over the three-day weekend, including a kids’ zone, wristbands to protect kids and special-needs adults and meet-and-greet opportunities with servicemen and women.
“We look forward to welcoming everyone to our tropical metropolis — from near and far — as we remember and honor the men and women who sacrificed their lives for this great nation,” said Miami Beach City Manager Jimmy L. Morales in a city news release.
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There still will be the parties, concerts and club scene associated with Urban Beach Week, traditionally a time when many revelers take to the streets.
But, this year, the Beach will host a military air-and-sea show as part of a National Salute to American Heroes, a two-day event that police expect to draw thousands to the beach and Lummus Park, between 10th and 14th Streets. There will be power-boat racing, airplane acrobatics and nautical displays, all for free.
The city is trying to market itself as an ideal spot for a “staycation” following the 2011 Memorial Day fatal shooting of a motorist on Collins Avenue. Police say Raymond Herisse was driving erratically, plowed into cars and nearly hit several cops on bicycles. Police opened fire, killing him and wounding four bystanders. Reports would later reveal that police had fired more than 100 bullets in the early-morning hours of Memorial Day.
The next year, in 2012, a homeless man resting on the side of the MacArthur Causeway near Biscayne Boulevard had his face partially chewed off by another man, who police shot and killed on the Saturday afternoon of Memorial Day Weekend.
In the years since, the number of arrests during the weekend have gradually decreased — down from 414 in 2013 to 195 last year, said Capt. David De La Espriella.
This year, Miami Beach police plan to implement a traffic loop continuously from Friday evening to Monday morning, in an effort to curb traffic jams. Starting at 7 p.m. May 26, Collins Avenue will be one-way northbound, between Fifth and 17th streets. Washington Avenue will be one-way southbound during the same period, between Fifth and 15th streets. The one-way streets will remain until 7 a.m. Monday.
“It’s gonna be busy all day and all night,” said De La Espriella. At a community meeting on Thursday evening, De La Espriella said he expects somewhere around 150,000 people to attend this year’s celebration, with the air-and-sea show primed to be the main attraction.
Residents should carry ID with them to access neighborhoods within the traffic loop. Officers near causeways will use license-plate readers to check for stolen cars and outstanding warrants. Visitors are encouraged to use other means of transportation, like buses, shuttles, trolleys or ride-sharing apps to get to the beach. Weekday bus routes will be in effect during the weekend, De La Espriella said.
“Get there early,” he said.
Also new this year is a voluntary wristband ID program parents and guardians can use to keep children or adults with special needs safe. The wristbands, which would include phone numbers to reach a parent or guardian, will be available at tents on Fifth, Eighth, 10th and 13th streets. There will also be a Kids Fun Zone at Lummus Park offering activities like kid yoga, relay races and a dance-a-thon.
Asked how a city could deal with such a dramatic influx of people, De La Esprielle said: “Lots of cops.”
The exact number of police officers — including those from departments elsewhere in Miami-Dade County — expected to be on patrol across South Beach was not given, but Miami Beach police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez said it would be in the hundreds. There will also be a corps of Good Will Ambassadors provided by the county to manage the crowd.
“I think we really started emphasizing respecting the scene and not doing things that will get you in trouble,” he said.
Lars Henriksen, visiting Miami Beach from Copenhagen, Denmark, didn’t know what Memorial Day was until he Googled it.
Henriksen is in town to help organize events for the World Out Games, a 10-day festival of sports, parties and human-rights conference taking place in Miami. The events begin May 26. He said he was happy the festival aligns with Memorial Day festivities, and that he would be avoiding traffic by taking a shuttle.
Asked what he expected from the air-and-sea show, Henriksen, 46, said there would be noise, colored smoke and heaps of patriotism, a sharp contrast to military displays in his country.
“Let’s just say that the American approach to your armed forces is very different from the Danish,” he said.
If you go
During the Memorial Day Weekend, May 27-29, Miami Beach is hosting several events that will change traffic patterns. Here are the key changes:
▪ Collins Avenue will be one-way northbound, beginning at 7 p.m. May 26 through 7 a.m. May 29. No street parking will be allowed on Collins Avenue between Fifth and 17th streets as those lanes will be used to extended pedestrian pathways.
▪ Washington Avenue will be one-way southbound beginning at 7 p.m. May 26 through 7 a.m. May 29. Access to east/west streets between Fifth and 15th streets will be restricted.
▪ Ocean Drive will be closed to vehicular traffic beginning at 7 a.m. May 26 through 7 a.m. May 29. Some access to the east/west streets (100 and 200 blocks) between Washington Avenue and Ocean Drive, Sixth to 15th streets, will also be restricted. Local residents with the proper zoned decals will be allowed to enter.
Event listing for National Salute to American heroes can be found here.