Following a pair of fatal shootings during Memorial Day weekend, Miami Beach commissioners on Wednesday unanimously agreed to let voters decide whether to limit alcohol sales at outdoor venues along Ocean Drive.
A binding referendum question will appear on the November ballot asking voters if the city should adopt an ordinance ending alcohol sales in outdoor venues at 2 a.m. instead of 5 a.m. Indoor establishments that are completely enclosed and located entirely within hotels would be exempt.
The vote came after last week’s shootings in South Beach, including the fatal shooting of Miami-Dade resident Ladarian T. Phillips during an argument over a parking space. The violence reignited a debate about the state of the South Beach’s entertainment district.
Mayor Philip Levine took aim at Ocean Drive, as he has in the past, initially proposing the 2 a.m. rollback all along the seaside street known for its nightlife.
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On Wednesday, Levine said the issue should go to the people.
“Let the residents decide,” he said.
Some of Ocean Drive’s most prominent nightclubs asked the commission to defer the vote and study the impact of a rollback before putting the question on the ballot.
Mike Palma, executive vice president of hospitality for the company that owns the Clevelander and a member of the Ocean Drive Association, reminded commissioners of a multifaceted plan to revamp Ocean Drive that is already in motion. Sidewalk cafe tables have been moved to create a linear path up the sidewalk, lighting has been improved, and the police department has put more officers on the street.
“We want a clean and safe community as much as everyone on this dais does,” Palma said.
Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán, who favored taking more time to analyze the issue before voting, said the commission was sensitive to the tourism industry’s concerns that limiting alcohol sales would send a message to the rest of the world that the party is over in Miami Beach.
“We are not trying to kill the fun,” she said. “It’s really the criminality that we’re trying to address.”
After the vote, Ocean Drive businesses said they support letting the voters weigh in, but a study should be done on the impact the earlier closure would have on jobs and revenue from the bars, which contribute to the city’s important tourism tax revenue.
Alexander Tachmes, attorney for the Ocean Drive Association, said a large part of the appeal of Ocean Drive’s nightlife, particularly for those from colder climates, is the ability to have drinks outside late into the evening.
With the decision to put the question on the ballot, the issue is expected to become a flashpoint during this year’s municipal elections, which will also be on the November ballot.