Downtown Miami

Will Ultra stay at Bayfront Park? As Miami residents complain, commission will decide

The Arcadia Spider spits fire during the first day of Ultra Music Festival in Bayfront Park on Friday, March 23, 2018.
The Arcadia Spider spits fire during the first day of Ultra Music Festival in Bayfront Park on Friday, March 23, 2018.

UPDATE: The city has postponed the vote on Ultra’s contract to September. It will no longer be considered at the July 26 City Commission meeting. On July 24, City Attorney Victoria Mendez told the Miami Herald multiple provisions of the proposed contract have not been settled, including the length of the contract and the rent. Below is the original article published July 3 about a draft contract.

The ear-splitting bass that roars from Miami’s downtown waterfront every March could continue for at least another five years if the city approves a new contract with the Ultra Music Festival.

On July 26, commissioners are expected to consider a five-year deal with the popular electronic-dance-music festival. The proposed agreement, with an option for a five-year renewal, would guarantee the agency that manages Bayfront Park a minimum of $2 million each year from Ultra — more than double what the festival pays the city now to stage the three-day event. That number could increase, depending on ticket sales.

A draft contract, which was made public Monday, was negotiated by Commissioner Joe Carollo, who doubles as chairman of the Bayfront Management Park Trust. The Trust is ultimately the recipient of Ultra’s fees. It’s also the recipient of residents’ complaints about the noise and traffic that the festival brings to downtown.

Neighbors are clamoring for the Trust or the city to stop hosting large-scale events at Bayfront Park, a waterfront green space that downtown residents say they want to be open to the public more. The number of days the park is closed has more than tripled from 35 in 2011 to 115 in 2017 because of the growing number of events and the time required to set up for them. One group of residents hired an attorney to send the city a cease-and-desist letter on June 20.

The attorney, Sam Dubbin, objected to the contract at a Trust meeting on June 26. He said Ultra was an unlawful nuisance, and he argued the city should respond to his letter and produce public records that he has requested regarding Ultra’s dealings with the city before proceeding.

“The community wants to know ... why. What’s the rush?” Dubbin said.

Despite the outcry, city officials hashed out a contract for commissioners to weigh on July 26, the last commission meeting before a month-long break during August.

“We feel confident that the commission as a whole recognizes the importance of events like ours in a city, not just from an economic standpoint but for the exposure,” said Ray Martinez, Ultra’s security director and a former Miami Beach police chief.

Martinez described Ultra as the “Art Basel of electronic-dance-music festivals.” The three-day concert attracts music-lovers from across the world for what is considered the premier EDM event, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year.

Ultra typically features performances from prominent artists such as Axwell & Ingrosso, Armin van Buuren, and Steve Aoki and draws about 55,000 people a day. Even if EDM has somewhat receded from the mainstream, it remains a serious moneymaker. The International Music Summit’s 2016 Business Report stated that EDM grossed $7.1 billion globally.

The opportunity to bolster the Bayfront Park Management Trust’s budget led Carollo to push for the fee increase. Most of those extra dollars would come from a new $5 ticket surcharge that didn’t exist when Ultra entered into its most recent contract five years ago, so it has not been collected before. Revenue from the surcharge would be bundled with a base fee of $797,030. That fee would increase 3 percent each year starting in the contract’s third year and continue growing if renewed.

Even if ticket sales slumped and created a shortfall, Ultra would still have to pay the city $2 million each year. High ticket sales could push that revenue even higher.