For more than a decade, a crush of partygoers have headed to Miami Beach during Memorial Day weekend for the annual Urban Beach Week.
This year, they won’t be alone.
A confluence of social and sports events is making the holiday big on both sides of the bridge. Consider: Urban Beach Week will be joined by a popular reggae concert, an annual circuit party, and, perhaps most important to South Florida, two Miami Heat games — Saturday and Monday nights — in the team’s pursuit of a third championship.
Still, the crowds courtesy of Urban Beach Week are thinner than in years past. Grown organically through word-of-mouth and the hype of party promoters and deejays, the event has had competition from other hotspots almost since its inception. Aruba, Cancun and other venues lured hip-hop stars and the dollars they bring to town.
This year, Las Vegas — long a mecca for Electronic Dance Music cognoscenti over Memorial Day Weekend — has added a hip-hop element to its long list of parties. Some are doing double duty, making appearances in both cities: comedian Kevin Hart will arrive in town from Vegas to host a hip-hop cruise on Sunday .
In Miami, the largest single event might be “best of the best,” a Caribbean concert Sunday at Bayfront Park downtown.
Featuring some of the biggest entertainers on the Caribbean music scene, the concert will be mostly reggae, from classic artists like Barrington Levy and Beres Hammond to new beats from Chronixx, said concert spokeswoman Tracii McGregor.
This year’s concert also will feature soca acts, hosted by Darryl “DLife,” a popular Caribbean deejay on New York’s Hot 97 and Miami’s Mixx 96.1 FM.
“It’s huge this year,” the deejay said. “Soca will be will represented by not just one but four soca artists and some surprises I can’t mention.”
Sizzle, an annual Memorial Day gathering in Miami and Miami Beach for gay men of color, is holding most of this year’s festivities on the mainland, citing construction-fueled traffic challenges in South Beach. Headquartered at the InterContinental Hotel downtown, the event will feature a series of parties at downtown clubs, plus one major oceanside bash: Sunday’s Splash, in a tent at Haulover Beach.
Perhaps the biggest stars of the weekend will hold court at AmericanAirlines Arena. If you feel like stargazing but don’t want to cross over to South Beach, the AAA will be full for nationally televised games at 8:30 p.m. Saturday and Monday against the Indiana Pacers.
The scheduling was a twist of fate.
By virtue of a better record, the Pacers played host to the first two games (Sunday and Tuesday), which pushed Game 3 and Game 4 here. If the Heat had the better record, the LeBron and Co. would be watching the Indy 500 instead.
For festivities on Miami Beach, police will be out once again in full force — along with the help of several other Miami-Dade police agencies — to keep visitors safe and control the throngs. This weekend, more than 450 officers are expected on the streets each day.
Along with roving bike squads, the department has set up a central command center at the Miami Beach Convention Center with a giant 90-inch television screen that can lock into any of the 40 cameras that sit like spaceships between stoplights set up at intersections throughout the city.
Starting at 7 a.m. Friday, Ocean Drive will be closed to vehicles. As in years past, traffic will be forced to loop around South Beach by heading north on Collins Avenue and south on Washington Avenue from 7 p.m. until 7 a.m. To make way for pedestrians, street parking is not allowed on Collins Avenue between Fifth and 15th streets.
Police also are planning to set up a DUI checkpoint along the MacArthur Causeway, and cameras on all three causeways heading to the beach will record license plate numbers looking for anyone with outstanding warrants.
Miami Beach police spokesman Bobby Hernandez called the traffic loop “our savior,” explaining how it keeps traffic moving on other streets and helps to keep visitors out of residential communities often sensitive to the large crowds.
Though the crowds have remained steady, friction between police and visitors has gone down dramatically since Beach cops were caught short-handed when the crowds first started appearing in 2000. In 2005, about 1,000 people were arrested during Memorial Day weekend — more than 10 percent of the total arrests made that year by Miami Beach police.
Hernandez said police were caught so off-guard the first year they deployed officers in riot gear with heavy weaponry the next year. He said those officers often acted in a heavy-handed way. Over the years, Hernandez said, the department has tweaked how it deals with the crowds and has now seemed to reach a happy medium.
Still, tensions heightened dramatically in 2011 when Miami Beach made national headlines with the shooting death of Raymond Herisse. Miami Beach Police and other agencies confronted Herisse in his vehicle on Ocean Drive and unleashed a volley of 116 bullets. He died instantly, and four innocent bystanders were caught in the crossfire.
No weapon was ever found on Herisse, and, three years later, the case remains open. Though tensions have eased in the years since Herisse’s death, a massive police presence and traffic congestion have remained a constant.
Last year over the five-day weekend, from Thursday through Monday, police made 414 arrests. The year before they arrested 373. In 2011, the year Herisse was killed, 431 people were arrested.
Very few of the arrests were for major crimes. Most were for minor crimes like drug possession, moving violations, or disturbing the peace.
Miami Herald staff writers Kendall Hamersly, John Devine, Steve Rothaus and Ayana Stewart contributed to this report.