Miami-Dade County

Three weeks before Ultra, Brickell homeowners sue city of Miami over festival contract

Update: At a hearing March 15, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Rodolfo Ruiz denied a motion for an injunction that would have voided Ultra Music Festival’s licensing agreement with the city of Miami. The case continues, and the Brickell residents could appeal the judge’s ruling, but the decision clears the path for Ultra to continue preparing for the opening of the festival on March 29. For details on the hearing, see this Twitter thread.

The Brickell Homeowners Association has sued Miami’s government claiming the city violated its laws by giving Ultra Music Festival a no-bid contract to stage the three-day event on Virginia Key this year.

Ultra is scheduled to open March 29 on the island at two separate locations linked by a barricaded walking path, the lot outside Miami Marine Stadium and a section of Virginia Key Beach Park. In November, Miami commissioners approved a revocable licensing agreement allowing Ultra to move to city-owned property on the key after the commission rejected a new deal for the festival to stay at its longtime home, Bayfront Park — an ouster underscored by downtown neighbors’ complaints and political infighting among commissioners.

The homeowners association, which represents 35,000 people living between the Miami River and the Rickenbacker Causeway, is raising an argument the downtown dwellers had threatened to use if the commissioners let Ultra stay at Bayfront Park. Instead of complaints about the anticipated noise and traffic that will accompany Ultra’s move to Virginia Key, the association is focusing on the city’s legal definition of its agreement with Ultra.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, alleges that the city is calling its agreement with Ultra a “license” when it is actually a “lease.” The distinction is important because a lease would require the city to open a public bid before awarding a contract. The attorney representing the Brickell homeowners, David Winker, said in a statement that the lawsuit asks the court to “hold the city accountable and force it to follow its own laws regarding competitive bidding and participation of its citizens in the process.”

“The city of Miami circumvented its own laws and disenfranchised its own citizens to force this deal through ... a deal that is a disaster for the environment and our residents,” Winker said.

Winker has been busy suing the city lately. The attorney sued the city twice in the past few months to derail the effort to replace Miami’s only city-owned golf course with a commercial and stadium complex for David Beckham’s upcoming Major League Soccer team.

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In 2018, downtown residents raised the same lease versus license issue, using some of the same case law, but never sued. Commissioners eventually rejected a new multi-year contract to keep Ultra on Miami’s downtown waterfront. The city described the Virginia Key deal as a revocable license with no term, meaning the city can decide to cancel the contract with about a year’s notice.

On Thursday morning, Miami City Attorney Victoria Mendez told the Miami Herald her office had not yet received the 10-page complaint, which was first published by blogger Al Crespo.

The lawsuit is the latest legal challenge to stop the electronic dance music festival. When commissioners approved the Virginia Key deal with Ultra, they also displaced another electronic music festival which had been staged on the island the past two years. Rapture Electronic Music Festival had been scheduled to hold its event on the same weekend in Virginia Key Beach Park. Rapture sued Ultra and the city in federal court earlier this year, but a judge threw out the complaint in mid-February.

Read the full complaint below:



Joey Flechas covers government and public affairs in the city of Miami for the Herald, from votes at City Hall to neighborhood news. He won a Sunshine State award for revealing a Miami Beach political candidate’s ties to an illegal campaign donation. He graduated from the University of Florida.
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