Miami Beach

After wild spring break, Miami Beach will crack down on unauthorized parties at clubs

Miami Beach wants to prevent promoters from advertising events at South Beach bars and clubs during peak tourism periods, part of a package of new rules aimed at taming the party atmosphere during spring break and over holiday weekends.

On Wednesday, the City Commission voted in favor of the restrictions, which apply to outside promoters organizing or advertising events at bars and clubs in the South Beach entertainment district.

The new rules come on the heels of a wild spring break that made international headlines when videos of young people brawling on the beach and on city streets were posted on social media. Several police officers were injured over spring break, and residents complained about what they described as an out-of-control party atmosphere.

City officials largely blamed promoters for the crowds and misbehavior.

“What happens with these promoted events, especially during these high-impact times, the people promoting them really don’t care how many people show up,” said Mayor Dan Gelber.

The mayor argued that promoters circumvent the city’s special event permitting process, which requires event planners to come up with plans to address issues like crowd control, traffic and public safety. Miami Beach also requires event planners using city venues — such as Art Basel at the Miami Beach Convention Center — to get their plans approved.

But events promoted at private clubs and bars, which are often advertised on social media, can bring large crowds to South Beach without giving the city a chance to prepare, Gelber argued, causing traffic and safety issues. Promoters also invite misbehavior, including underage drinking, through their advertisements, Gelber said in a newsletter to residents.

“One of the main reasons so many people come to our City to be unruly is that they are invited to do so by online party promoters,” Gelber wrote.

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Miami Beach set up barricades along Ocean Drive during spring break. MARIA ALEJANDRA CARDONA

During spring break, code enforcement officers closed eight businesses for safety reasons or for failure to have a business license. In at least one case, promoters played a role in the closure.

Cameo Nightclub on Washington Avenue shut down voluntarily one Saturday night after code compliance officers cited the club for overcrowding and patrons blocking the sidewalk, according to city records. The owner told code compliance officers that a promoter had oversold an event at the club, according to Code Compliance Director Hernan Cardeno. The club did not respond to a request for comment, but city records show that it is appealing the violations.

The new restrictions would prohibit the city from issuing business licenses to promoters for single events at bars and clubs in the entertainment district during peak tourism periods and suspend promoters’ annual business licenses during these times. Peak tourism periods, known as “high-impact” periods, are designated by the city manager based on criteria including the number of expected visitors. The city defines the entertainment district as Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue and Washington Avenue between Fifth and 16th streets.

Operating without a business license can result in a $1,000 civil fine for a first offense and jail time for continued violations over a period of 30 days or more. Businesses that allow promoters to operate without a license are also responsible for the fines and, under the new restrictions, can be closed for the night.

At a meeting earlier this month, the City Commission passed other restrictions aimed at curbing the party atmosphere in South Beach. They include increased penalties for bars and clubs that allow people under the age of 21 to enter and new emergency powers for the city manager during “high-impact” periods.

City officials said they want to have the new restrictions in place before Memorial Day weekend, which typically draws thousands of young, primarily African-American visitors for the loosely affiliated hip-hop concerts and parties known as Urban Beach Week. The restrictions have to be approved by the commission a second time before they can be implemented.

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Miami Beach increased the police presence on the sand during spring break this year. MARIA ALEJANDRA CARDONA

The commission discussed a broader version of the promoter restrictions at its April 10 meeting, but two commissioners warned that the restrictions would prohibit the types of events the city wants to attract.

In response, Gelber narrowed the proposed rules so that they apply only to the South Beach entertainment district. He also clarified that clubs and bars advertising events at their own establishment aren’t considered promoters, nor are event organizers who obtain special event permits.

Clubs and promoters contacted by the Herald did not respond to requests for comment. Kenneth Baines, a South Beach resident who has worked with local clubs, told commissioners during the April 10 meeting that he didn’t think targeting promoters would keep the crowds away.

“The promoters themselves are not the cause of the problem,” he said.

Instead, Baines suggested that the city work more closely with clubs to prepare for peak tourism periods and enlist local event producers to plan activities for spring break visitors.

“Some of these guys could help you produce some events on the beach that could potentially be an outlet for the kids who are coming here,” Baines said.

Commissioner Ricky Arriola, who voted against the legislation, raised similar concerns. He noted that the major problem over spring break was the public fights, which largely took place on the beach and on the streets, rather than in clubs.

“I think there are better ways to think about this and I want to challenge us to try and be more creative than just simply trying to ban things, because banning things hasn’t really worked well for us,” he said.

Arriola argued that the restrictions, which only kick in when the city manager designates a “high-impact” period, will lead to complaints of selective enforcement.

Miami Beach has been criticized by civil liberties groups in years past for a heightened police presence and increased crowd-control measures over Memorial Day weekend. This year, local chapters of the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union also raised concerns about the heightened police presence on South Beach over spring break.

Kyra Gurney lives in Miami Beach and covers the island for the Miami Herald. She attended Columbia University and Colorado College and grew up in New Mexico.
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