Miami Beach

Could Ultra return to South Beach? City to discuss while Homestead talks continue

Tens of thousands leave Ultra and walk miles across Rickenbacker in Miami

Tens of thousands of festival goers make their way out of the 2019 Ultra Music Festival in Virginia Key, Florida on Saturday, March 30, 2019.
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Tens of thousands of festival goers make their way out of the 2019 Ultra Music Festival in Virginia Key, Florida on Saturday, March 30, 2019.

Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola has proposed bringing Ultra to South Beach’s Lummus Park in 2020.

Residents complained about what they described as an out-of-control party atmosphere and public fights during spring break this year, but Arriola argued that hosting an event like Ultra would actually make spring break festivities safer and better organized as well as more profitable for local businesses.

“Inviting an established, well-organized event like Ultra for Spring Break 2020 will put heads in beds and serve as the counter-programming mechanism against the unorganized chaos that was Spring Break 2019 in Miami Beach,” he wrote in a memo to commissioners.

Arriola placed an item on the agenda for Miami Beach’s May 22 commission meeting to discuss authorizing the city manager to begin conversations with Ultra organizers.

If Ultra were to land on South Beach, it would mark the return of the three-day electronic dance music event to its original home. Ultra began in 1999 as an unofficial Winter Music Conference satellite event, an 11-hour beachside rave at 21st Street that attracted about 7,000 people.

After one more year in the Beach, the festival spent 18 years on Miami’s downtown waterfront. Along the way, the festival has grown into a marquee event in South Florida’s music scene, drawing more than 55,000 people this year, and the brand has spawned lucrative festivals across the world.

Over the years, some say Ultra outgrew Miami’s increasingly residential downtown core. Last year, Miami commissioners rejected a contract for Ultra to stay in Bayfront Park — an ouster fueled by political feuding and resident complaints about the volume of the festival’s music and lack of access to the park while the festival set up and tore down its stages.

In November, commissioners approved a deal to move the festival to Virginia Key, which proved logistically challenging and blasted sounds to other Miami neighborhoods, spurring resident complaints. On the eve of a May 9 vote to either let Ultra stay another year or end the agreement, festival organizers notified the city of Miami it was leaving. Ultra announced it would voluntarily terminate its licensing agreement with the city, opening the door for negotiations with other venues to move the event..

Festival organizers are also in talks with the Homestead-Miami Speedway. Homestead’s City Council is expected to discuss the matter at a special meeting Tuesday. A move to Homestead could transform Ultra into a different experience, where fans camp overnight in a more remote location. Ultra’s festival in South Africa has a similar setup.

Other Miami-Dade cities have jumped into the bid for the festival. Hialeah Councilman Paul Hernandez tweeted his desire to talk about bringing Ultra to his city. Other South Florida municipalities are rumored to be making overtures behind the scenes.

One Broward County city confirmed they were contacted by Ultra. Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis told the Herald he spoke with Ultra representatives this week, and he planned to place a discussion on an upcoming agenda for the Fort Lauderdale commission.

Trantalis said he was interested in hearing commissioners’ opinions, though he did not think the beach, the venue for smaller festivals such as Tortuga and Riptide, was an appropriate venue an event of Ultra’s size.

“I would not impose that on our tourists and those residents that live on the beach,” he said.

In the Beach, Arriola said he thinks Ultra could also improve the island’s spring break traffic problems if the city and hotels gave concertgoers incentives to stay on the island and festival organizers provided buses for those staying on the mainland.

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The proposal is likely to anger some residents who feel that Miami Beach already has too many events bringing crowds of tourists to South Beach. It’s also likely to be a tough sell for elected officials. Commissioners were reluctant to approve a pop music festival on the beach and asked organizers to change their proposed dates several times before agreeing to allow the festival to take place in November 2019.

Mayor Dan Gelber said he is not enthusiastic about bringing Ultra to the Beach. “I’m glad we’re thinking out of the box, but I’m not at all convinced this is the direction we want to go,” he said.

One residents group, Miami Beach United, has urged the city to sponsor events over spring break in an effort to make the week more organized, however.

During spring break this year, the commission held an emergency meeting and deployed police to patrol the beach in protective gear, which sparked complaints from local civil liberties groups. Commissioners then passed a range of new rules designed to kill the party atmosphere, including restrictions on advertising events at clubs and bars.

Arriola said he anticipated a “vibrant discussion” about Ultra at Wednesday’s commission meeting.

“I hope my colleagues take it seriously and don’t dismiss it out of hand because we don’t really have a plan B,” he said. “Plan B is making the beach a police state” and spending millions of dollars on heightened security, he added.