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Following ouster from downtown Miami, Ultra Music Festival might move to Virginia Key

Ultra Music Festival 2018 - Day 2

Scenes from the second day at the Ultra Music Festival Saturday, March 24, 2018, at Bayfront Park in Miami.
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Scenes from the second day at the Ultra Music Festival Saturday, March 24, 2018, at Bayfront Park in Miami.

Miami’s Ultra Music Festival might move to Virginia Key in March 2019.

Festival organizers and city officials confirmed they are negotiating a contract to stage the popular three-day electronic dance music event March 29-31 near Miami Marine Stadium on Virginia Key.

There is one complication — another electronic music festival advertised at the same location on the same days.

Miami commissioners recently booted Ultra from Bayfront Park in downtown when they unanimously rejected a proposed 10-year contract for the event to stay on Miami’s waterfront — a move lamented by fans and cheered by disgruntled neighbors who live in condo towers across the street from the park.

In the month since the vote, city officials have been quietly discussing terms to keep the festival in Miami by holding it on the island on the Rickenbacker Causeway, the same site as the Miami International Boat Show. In a statement Friday, Ultra organizers say they want to stage the festival in two “in-tandem” spaces on the key: the park next to the Miami Marine Stadium and Historic Virginia Key Beach Park. Under the arrangement, festival activities would be held in two separate areas of the island.

“While we are, of course, excited about the current proposal, this potential partnership represents so much more than Ultra’s impact on either South Florida or on the development of innovative production elements,” says Russell Faibisch, Ultra’s co-founder and CEO.

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From left, Kiara Daniela Benac, 21, and Ale Ruttimann, 21, both from Miami, dance and wave flags from Brazil and Peru during the second day of Ultra Music Festival in downtown Miami on Saturday, March 25, 2017. MATIAS J. OCNER For the Miami Herald

A vote has been tentatively scheduled for Nov. 15. City Manager Emilio Gonzalez told the Miami Herald the negotiations are ongoing, but he had to place the item on the preliminary agenda due to public noticing requirements.

“This is still a work in progress,” he said, adding that he’s confident a proposed contract will be finalized in time for the Nov. 15 hearing.

As it stands, Ultra would be double-booked with Rapture Electronic Music Festival, which announced the dates and location last month and has already opened ticket sales.

“We have a signed contract with Historic Virginia Key Beach Park dating back to March 2018 for March 29 and March 30, 2019. We’re very much looking forward to returning to this beautiful beachside setting for our third edition,” said Youssef Khamis, CEO and Founder of Rapture Electronic Music Festival, in a statement.

Ray Martinez, Ultra spokesman, said the city was aware of Rapture in advance of the negotiations.

“It did come up,” he said. “I think the event would be moved. It’s a much smaller event.”

Miami Spokesman Eugene Ramirez said Rapture’s agreement was with Virginia Key Beach Park Trust and not the city. Virginia Key Beach Park Trust did not respond to requests for comment, but an employee who answered the phone and declined to be named confirmed Rapture was on the calendar.

Faibisch said the proposed deal includes money for the construction of an African-American Museum at the beach park. During segregation in the 1940s and ‘50s, Virginia Key had the only local beach that allowed access to African-Americans. The CEO also said Ultra plans to work with authorities to make sure the festival does not create an environmental problem.

“This particular proposal was driven equally by our sense of corporate social responsibility,” Faibisch said. “Our vision, with the assistance of environmentalists and other stakeholders, is to become the standard bearer in reducing environmental impact in the festival space.”

The financial details of the deal have not been finalized. The draft agenda for the Nov. 15 meeting shows a resolution with blanks for the length and value of the contract. Commissioners would have to waive the city’s competitive bidding law to approve the deal.

Commission Chairman Keon Hardemon is sponsoring the item. Hardemon’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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The draft agenda for the Nov. 15 Miami City Commission meeting shows that elected officials may consider vote on a new contract for Ultra Music Festival to be held in the city. Officials confirmed for the Miami Herald the new location would be on Virginia Key.

Commissioner Ken Russell, whose district includes Virginia Key, said he was glad to hear the festival was looking for alternative venues.

“I recognize the value of this event to local businesses and hotels as well as the global music scene,” he said.If Virginia Key is the proposal, I will keep an open mind but am very conscious of the sensitivities with regard to the environment, traffic and our neighbors on Key Biscayne.”

Russell touched on a possible flashpoint down the road, if the contract comes to a vote. The plan could ignite traffic congestion concerns from Key Biscayne residents who have resisted events on the island in the past, such as the boat show.

Virginia Key is home to other annual festivals, including the Virginia Key Grassroots Festival in February and House Of Creatives Fest in November.

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Since the mangroves were cut down, the Miami International Boat Show, shown in 2018, has welcomed about 300,000 visitors to Miami Marine Stadium, where it erects floating docks, tents and walkways. Pedro Portal pportal@miamiherald.com

Following the ouster from Bayfront Park, Ultra organizers have faced a tight timeline to find a new location — the festival has already sold tickets for the March event. Fans on social media have wondered whether they should hold off on booking travel to Miami.

Another Ultra property, the recently acquired Winter Music Conference, is scheduled at the Faena Forum on Miami Beach for the three days before Ultra is planned to begin.

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