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.

South Florida was drenched with rain caused by the subtropical storm moving up the Gulf of Mexico. Alberto, the first named storm of the 2018 storm season, is expected to strengthen as it churns north over the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

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.

At The Betsy, hotel staff fielded calls last week from guests concerned about how the storm would impact the weekend's festivities, said owner Jonathan Plutzik. Some of the guests ended up canceling their reservations, although others came despite the rain.

Rainy weather led to smaller crowds in Miami Beach over Memorial Day weekend in 2018. Here, visitors take advantage of a break in the storm to walk down Ocean Drive. Sam Navarro

But Plutzik was happy with how the weekend had gone. The Betsy hosted several of the new city-sponsored events, including jazz concerts and poetry readings, which attracted hundreds of people.

"Overall we're excited about the tone of the weekend and how these events and others added to the richness of the weekend," Plutzik said.

That was the city's goal in funding the cultural events, which were part of an effort to reshape the weekend and provide alternatives to drinking and partying.

Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola and Ruban Roberts, president of the NAACP's Miami-Dade branch, led a panel throughout the year to help the city plan Memorial Day weekend. They said they thought the events had been successful.

"We'll be back next year with an even better lineup," Arriola said.

Roberts was also satisfied with the policing over the weekend. The NAACP had been concerned that a crackdown on drivers playing loud music, which was announced in late April, would lead to increased arrests. By Monday morning, however, only one person had been arrested for violating the loud music ordinance, according to Miami Beach Police Department data.

"So far based on the information I have I'm definitely pleased with how police have handled the situations," Roberts said.

Police had arrested 111 people overall by dawn Monday, slightly up from the same point in Memorial Day weekend last year, but the weekend was still on track to finish with fewer arrests than in other recent years. Roughly half of the people arrested were Miami-Dade residents and another 18 were from other parts of Florida. Fewer than a third were out-of-state visitors.

A crowd of people enjoys the Hyundai Air & Sea Show in Miami Beach on Sunday, May 27, 2018. Sam Navarro

Revelers had mixed views on the police presence in South Beach.

Antonio González, 29, a resident of downtown Miami, said it wasn't just the weather that had kept people away from Ocean Drive this year. González thought Miami Beach's restrictions, like the noise crackdown, had also deterred visitors.

“It really turns a lot of people away," he said on Sunday afternoon, adding that some would-be Miami Beach visitors had gone to Las Vegas for Memorial Day weekend instead.

For Kim Del Rosario, 35, who was visiting from Jacksonville, the police presence on Ocean Drive didn't feel overbearing. "I love that the police allow people to enjoy themselves without harassing," she said. "Everyone is having a good time."

Visitors also took advantage of the break in the rain on Sunday to watch the Air and Sea Show. The show attracted fewer visitors than last year because of the weather, said Maria Scott, a spokeswoman for event organizer National Salute to American's Heroes, but organizers weren't able to get a reliable crowd estimate because the display village they use to count visitors had to be taken down early this year due to strong winds.

It's unclear how much the canceled concert planned for Saturday night will end up costing the city. According to the terms of the contract, the organizers will be reimbursed for all paid invoices, a city spokeswoman said. The organizers said on Monday that they didn't yet have a cost estimate. The city had budgeted $250,000 for the event.

The weather didn't put a damper on everyone's plans, however.

Mango's Tropical Cafe on Ocean Drive was packed every night this weekend, owner David Wallack said on Sunday evening. "We had a line around the block to get in," he said.

Business was also booming at nearby Exotic Car Rentals, which offers luxury vehicles like Porsches and Lamborghinis. By Sunday afternoon, all of the cars had been rented, said front desk clerk Michelle Tabora.

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

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