Downtown Miami

Miami club turns up the volume on noise dispute with condos, files lawsuit against city

Club goers walk toward the parking lots. Heart, one of the clubs located in the Park West District off 11th Street, recently sued the city of Miami, contending the city has illegally enforced its noise ordinance in an effort to shut down the entertainment district.
Club goers walk toward the parking lots. Heart, one of the clubs located in the Park West District off 11th Street, recently sued the city of Miami, contending the city has illegally enforced its noise ordinance in an effort to shut down the entertainment district.

Life for Biscayne Boulevard tower dwellers has gotten less noisy since a crackdown on clubs that blast music from their rooftop dance floors. But Heart Nightclub is as loud as ever, residents say, and those complaints have compelled Heart to fight back with a lawsuit that contends the city of Miami and people who live downtown are conspiring to run the clubs out of business.

The conflict between the clubs that operate 24/7 and condo residents yearning for a decent night’s sleep is sure to grow if they can’t find a way to co-exist. The downtown population will continue to swell with the opening of new buildings such as the Zaha Hadid-designed One Thousand Museum tower and the Paramount tower within the $1.5 billion Miami Worldcenter complex.

Heart claims the city has illegally enforced its noise ordinance in an effort to shut down the Park West entertainment district that was created to enliven Miami’s previously deserted core.

“Despite its popularity, Heart Nightclub (as well as other nightclubs located on 11th Street) has been facing growing pushback from the Defendant and certain Downtown Miamians, who have set their sights on ridding the Park West District of nightclubs, lounges and bars in favor of new development, including the Miami World Center, schools, and luxury condominiums,” says the complaint.

Heart, located at 50 NE 11th St., has been unfairly “vilified and demonized,” said club CFO Michael Slyder, also president of the Miami Entertainment District Association.

“There has to be a balance between the club’s entertainment needs and what is tolerable for residents, who have a right to peace,” Slyder said.

But residents’ demands that the club enclose its rooftop terrace — now covered by a large fabric awning — and reduce the sound of the music can’t easily be granted, he said. Constructing an enclosure would cost $1 million and turning down the volume would turn off patrons and DJs, he said.

“Our club is EDM [electronic dance music] and we pay $80,000 for a star DJ,” he said. “If the DJs don’t like the sound level, they walk off and then kill you on social media. The people on the terrace want to feel the music or they’ll leave, too.

Using a decibel meter, the Miami Herald measured the volume levels on some common annoying noises in South Florida.

“I’m 55. I hate it, but this is not some seedy bar,” Slyder said. “The people are really into the DJs and the music. Play it too low and it loses its effect.”

Once a barren pocket next to the I-395 overpass, the area became a hub for all-night clubs and was formally designated an “entertainment district” by the city in 2000. At its peak, 11 clubs thrummed in the district’s warehouses. Five remain, and the big three are Heart, Club Space and E11even.

But their music, heavy on subwoofer bass, permeates the condo towers to the east, where residents say the relentless low-frequency beat of marathon dance parties causes their windows and floors to vibrate, keeps them up at night and gets under their skin.

“This is not a small annoyance. It’s nonstop boom-boom-boom from Friday night until early Monday morning,” said Michael Graubert, who lives in the Marquis building at 1100 Biscayne Blvd. “When you’re dancing, you’re activated. When you’re sleeping, it’s like an earthquake. Living downtown, of course we expect noise, but not a sonic boom.

“Club LIV at the Fontainebleau resort has a loud sound system yet its guests can sleep because they have soundproofing. Nightclubs in New York, Las Vegas and across the world offer entertainment without disturbing either hotel guests or resident neighbors. There is a remedy. It’s called a roof.”

Since the city toughened enforcement of its noise ordinance and issued citations to all three clubs over Memorial Day weekend, E11even and Space have made efforts to meet with residents and mitigate noise, Graubert said. E11even, which intends to build an enclosure on its roof, closed its rooftop for awhile and when it has reopened on occasion, the music stops at 11 p.m. Space is modifying its sound system and its owners met with residents in three different buildings so they could hear what the music sounds like from inside condo units.

“The idea that our goal is to shut them down is nonsense,” said Mark Kirby, who has lived at 900 Biscayne since 2010. “Two of the clubs are cooperating, but Heart is doing nothing. Heart is the outlier, and is almost spiteful and vindictive in the way it blasts us out.

“We need to solve the problem. We need to set a precedent for the future of the city. Do you think people who paid $5 million for a unit in the Hadid building will tolerate this? The Paramount is one block closer to the clubs than we are. The clubs have got to comply if they want to operate in what is now a residential neighborhood.”

Slyder said he wanted to set a decibel limit of 103 (equivalent to the sound of a jet flyover at 100 feet) on the terraces. He also tried to conduct a scientific sound study with acoustics expert Colby Leider, an associate professor of music and director of the music engineering technology program at the University of Miami. But residents wouldn’t allow access to their homes and no measurements from within could be taken.

“Everything I’ve tried to do I’ve been stymied because I’m the bad guy,” he said. “The city told us to come to this blighted doughnut hole where we’ve invested millions. We’ve spent money on insulation. We’ve reduced crime. We employ 1,200 people and we’re portrayed as the villains in the neighborhood.

“What are their motives? They don’t want a compromise. They want us to be in violation. They want us out.”

Heart contends that despite previous interpretations of the noise law by city attorneys, the city is inappropriately applying the rule prohibiting noise “plainly audible” beyond 100 feet to the clubs, which are businesses that should be exempt. If the city can’t prove that the music is bothering someone inside a dwelling between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., the club is not in violation, the suit says. Heart is also challenging the constitutionality of the law.

No new citations have been issued since Memorial Day weekend — an indication of compliance, Heart says. Each of the three clubs appealed the two citations each was issued. A third citation would put a club’s business license in jeopardy.

“The situation has improved because two of the three clubs are trying to be good neighbors,” said Claudia Roussell, who lives on the 40th floor at 10 Museum Park. “One cannot make as much noise as three, even though Heart tries to.”

Said Slyder: “It’s about peaceful coexistence. I just wish it was as simple as turning some magic dial. It’s not.”

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