Miami Beach

Despite the weather, Memorial Day weekend wasn't a total washout for Miami Beach

Visitors place umbrellas and try to stay dry as they attend the Hyundai Air & Sea Show in Miami Beach on Saturday, May 26, 2018.
Visitors place umbrellas and try to stay dry as they attend the Hyundai Air & Sea Show in Miami Beach on Saturday, May 26, 2018.

Heading into Memorial Day this year, Miami Beach businesses and city officials had big expectations for the holiday weekend, which typically attracts tens of thousands of visitors.

The city predicted that the military-themed Air and Sea Show would draw 50,000 people a day, and hotel occupancy was on track to surpass last year's numbers.

Then rain from Subtropical Storm Alberto drenched the island, prompting some travelers to cancel their vacations altogether and others to hide indoors while the rain bore down. Some Ocean Drive restaurants and shops took a hit during a weekend that is typically a big moneymaker for South Beach.

The nasty weather also forced the city to cancel an outdoor concert Saturday night and put a damper on attendance at the Air and Sea Show, where water demonstrations including powerboat racing and a Jet Ski exhibition were canceled Sunday due to choppy seas.

But overall, city officials said the holiday weekend was a success. In comparison to last year, when an argument over a parking spot led to a deadly shooting, there were no major incidents. City-sponsored events, including a gospel concert and a youth poetry slam, drew new audiences, and bars and restaurants with ample indoor seating still saw plenty of customers.

"It was a pretty calm weekend and I think we added a little meaning to it as well," said Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber. "We're trying to keep inconvenience for residents as little as possible while recognizing that we live in an open society. It's not a perfect process, but we're trying to get it right."

In years past, Memorial Day weekend has stirred controversy in Miami Beach, including tensions between residents and tourists. The holiday typically draws young, primarily African-American visitors for loosely affiliated hip-hop concerts and parties known as Urban Beach Week. Acts of violence — like last year's shooting — have sometimes scarred the weekend and civil rights groups have previously criticized the city for deploying increased crowd-control measures and extra police.

Miami Beach has historically deployed a large police presence over Memorial Day weekend. CARL JUSTE

This year, apart from a hit-and-run incident that injured a tourist and the theft of an unmarked police car, the weekend was relatively uneventful. Still, it could have been better for South Beach businesses.

Late Sunday afternoon, the normally crowded Surf Style shop at 1332 Ocean Drive was nearly empty. Manager Eric Celik stood by the counter as he surveyed the store, where a case near the entrance displayed rain ponchos and umbrellas.

"It went down big time," Celik said, estimating that sales had dropped as much as 70 percent compared to Memorial Day weekend last year. Typically there are lines of people waiting to pay for T-shirts and souvenirs during the holiday weekend, Celik said, but this year umbrellas were the top seller.

Nearby, the Clevelander Hotel was completely booked, but its popular bar saw a 25 percent drop in business compared to last year, said Mike Palma, executive vice president of hospitality for the company that owns the Clevelander. A block away, Ocean's Ten saw a similar slump in profits because much of the restaurant's seating is outdoors, manager William Fedeli said Sunday afternoon.

It's unclear how much the storm impacted hotels.

As of Friday, Miami Beach hotels were nearly 88 percent booked through the weekend, compared to 84.4 percent last year, said Rolando Aedo, chief operating officer for the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors' Bureau. He predicted that because news of the impending storm came after most people had already made their travel plans, visitors would "plow through on their plans and enjoy what the city has to offer."

Wendy Kallergis, president of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association, said on Monday that hotels saw some cancellations due to the weather forecast, but precise numbers weren't yet available.

"The weather is really bad, but you still see people trying to have fun," she said.

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