Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo’s Friday night musical event in Little Havana isn’t just shoving Viernes Culturales out of the way — it could also trigger the sudden closure of a busy stretch of Calle Ocho, disrupting traffic and eliminating parking in the area.
Miami police might close Southwest Eighth Street between 14th and 17th avenues late Friday afternoon for Carollo’s event, an 11th-hour measure requested by Carollo in anticipation of big crowds to see an appearance (not a performance) by Pitbull and musical performances by Amaury Gutierrez, Carlos Manuel and others in the plaza outside Domino Park.
Carollo organized the free music and food event, scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., as his own alternative to the longstanding Viernes Culturales, a monthly gathering held in the same plaza on the last Friday of each month for years.
But closing Calle Ocho, a state-managed road, requires a permit from the Florida Department of Transportation. Carollo, a proud stickler for process who has hounded the owners of Ball & Chain looking for code violations, now wants a state agency to grant a permit for a major road closure less than 24 hours before his hastily organized event. During a meeting at city hall on Thursday, Carollo spoke of an anticipated large crowd and asked the police department if the street should be closed. The department quickly applied for FDOT permits and told the Miami Herald the street could be closed if too many people show up.
“Permits have been requested but are pending approval signatures,” said Miami police spokesman Michael Vega. “Closures are tentative of the approval of the permits and the size of the crowd in attendance.”
Bill Fuller, co-owner of Ball & Chain, told the Herald he was informed of the possible closure late Thursday by an employee of the Miami Parking Authority who told him Ball & Chain’s valet service would not be able to run if the street’s closed. That would have hurt business since Ball & Chain relies heavily on valet service, but the city later decided that one lane of Eighth Street would remain open only for valet operations for multiple businesses.
Since taking office in 2017, Carollo has obsessively looked for code violations at Ball & Chain and affiliated businesses, at times going on late-night stakeouts, and he’s bashed the club’s ownership in Spanish-language radio with accusations that they are trying to “de-Latinize” Little Havana. The commissioner’s new event, dubbed “Little Havana Fridays,” is meant to elbow out Viernes Culturales — Fuller is the chairman of the event’s board.
Frustrated with what he sees as further agitation of the area’s businesses, Fuller said other establishments could suffer because of the lack of parking caused by Carollo’s event.
“It’s going to be very damaging to the businesses here,” he said.
Viernes Culturales, which included merchants, music and food, operated for years the last Friday of each month without permits. A few weeks ago, the group complained to the city when Carollo pulled permits to hold his own event on the same date and asked to reserve the second and last Fridays of every month through December 2019.
Carollo has been attempting to drum up buzz for his Friday night party. On Thursday, he tweeted a video of Pitbull performing in front of huge crowds with the rapper narrating, asking people to come to the event for the unveiling of the “official flag of Little Havana.” Pitbull is not planning on performing Friday night.
Miami’s City Commission has not approved any resolution to create an “official flag” for Little Havana. The event is being organized by Carollo’s office and funded by a special events budget each commissioner receives to pay for gatherings in their districts. The party is also being sponsored by América TeVé, a Spanish-language TV station on which Carollo often appears. He has gone on the air to promote his event this week.
“The first thing we are going to do is give Little Havana and Miami the Christmas gift it deserves,” he said.
Then he reiterated his claim that Venezuelan government officials are laundering money in Little Havana real estate, echoing his accusations that Fuller and his affiliates have leftist ties and are trying to “de-Latinize” the neighborhood.
Carollo has said Little Havana Fridays will be an inclusive event that will benefit local businesses, including Ball & Chain. Fuller and his partners disagree, telling a federal judge earlier this week that the party is another retaliation against them for their support for Carollo’s political opponent last year. Fuller’s attorneys argued that Viernes Culturales had an “implied contract” with the city after years of operation while asking the judge for a restraining order to stop Carollo’s event.
The judge did not grant the order, but the matter is expected to go to trial in January as part of a lawsuit Fuller filed against Carollo over the code enforcement issue.