Miami-Dade County

As other suitors debate asking Ultra out, Miami has second thoughts about breakup

Tens of thousands leave Ultra and walk miles across Rickenbacker in Miami

Tens of thousands of festival goers make their way out of the 2019 Ultra Music Festival in Virginia Key, Florida on Saturday, March 30, 2019.
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Tens of thousands of festival goers make their way out of the 2019 Ultra Music Festival in Virginia Key, Florida on Saturday, March 30, 2019.

Weeks after Ultra Music Festival left the city of Miami, the city’s elected leaders are wondering if they should try to woo the electronic dance music event back.

“It just reminded me of being in a relationship, then breaking up with someone that you’re not ready to stop dating,” said Commissioner Keon Hardemon at a sunshine meeting Tuesday.

Hardemon and three other commissioners pondered the possibility of getting Ultra to return to the city — specifically, to Bayfront Park, which the city had kicked the festival out of. The discussion came at a time Ultra is in talks with several other South Florida municipalities over where next year’s festival will be held.

At a meeting where commissioners were allowed to discuss topics but not to take any votes, they agreed to reopen a formal conversation at a future meeting. Commissioner Joe Carollo reiterated residents’ complaints about the music blasting from Ultra’s stages, though he said he would welcome more talk about the matter.

Similarly, Commissioner Ken Russell said he’s willing to discuss the possibility as long as Ultra is willing to work with downtown residents who have for years complained about the volume of the concert and the amount of time it takes to set up and tear down the festival, limiting access to Bayfront Park. Russell also theorized that Ultra organizers walked away because they must have expected an unfavorable vote on May 9, when commissioners were going to decide if the festival could return to Virginia Key.

“Either they didn’t have the votes to continue, or they were losing money to the point where they were better off somewhere else,” Russell said.

Commissioner Manolo Reyes touted the economic impact of the festival while warning about encouraging a reputation that Miami would not welcome large-scale events that fill hotel rooms and local businesses.

“We have to be careful,” Reyes said. “We cannot be running businesses out of Miami.”

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It was universally accepted that Virginia Key, the venue for this year’s festival, did not work. Organizers hastily agreed to a licensing agreement in November to move to Virginia Key after the commission rejected a contract for the event to stay in Bayfront Park in September.

City Manager Emilio Gonzalez restated his position that Ultra’s economic impact is valuable to the city, as well as the $2 million fee that the festival agreed to pay the city. He said he would reconnect with Ultra organizers to invite them to a future commission meeting.

“I’m going to re-engage the principals of Ultra,” Gonzalez said.

The city would have to overcome a soured relationship with Ultra that deteriorated amid political infighting, negotiations for higher fees to the city and increased costs associated with staging the event on Virginia Key.

An Ultra representative declined to comment.

If commissioners want to seriously consider welcoming the festival back, they might have to undo an ordinance that limits the amount of time Bayfront Park can be used for private events. Following Ultra’s departure to Virginia Key, the commission approved an ordinance that would reserve the park for the general public for 85 percent of the year.

Downtown residents who attended Tuesday’s meeting were angered at even the thought of Ultra returning. In a statement after the meeting, the Downtown Neighbors Alliance pointed to multiple events that will occupy Bayfront Park during the first few months of 2020 — a Super Bowl fan event, the Miami Marathon and the Wodapalooza CrossFit Festival — while objecting to Ultra.

“The shortsighted idea of relocating an event that generated multiple noise complaints in a two-mile radius to a park across the street from thousands of residences is a clear violation of residents’ property rights and a blatant disregard for their health and well-being,” said Amal Kabbani, president of the Downtown Neighbors Alliance.

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Final day of Ultra Music Festival on Virginia Key on March 31, 2019. Alexia Fodere for The Miami Herald

Tuesday evening, the Homestead City Council was set to discuss extending hours at the Homestead-Miami Speedway to accommodate Ultra next year. It is unclear whether a favorable vote in Homestead would cement a deal to move the festival to southern Miami-Dade.

On Wednesday, the Miami Beach Commission is scheduled to discuss the the possibility of hosting Ultra in South Beach — an idea promoted by one commissioner that is stirring debate.

“This is the best idea I have heard in the last three years that could save us and place us back on the path to that special place we once were,” wrote Scott Poitevint, a Miami Beach Realtor, in an email to Beach commissioners.

Others say the Beach has enough problems with visitors.

“Residents already have to deal with the Ultra attendees staying in our hotels and illegal AirBnb’s during it’s duration,” wrote South Beach resident Tracey Mulholland in an email to commissioners. “As well, during this time period, we haven’t successfully handled the influx of Spring Breakers who take over. Residents are feeling trapped.”

Herald staff writer Kyra Gurney contributed to this report.

Joey Flechas covers government and public affairs in the city of Miami for the Herald, ranging 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 attended the University of Florida.
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