Miami Beach

Miami Beach rejects Ultra Music Festival as possible fix for city’s spring break woes

Lessons learned at Ultra Music Festival

Ray Martinez, chief of security and spokesman for Ultra Music Festival, gave a wrap-up and took questions regarding the three-day Ultra Music Festival during the event's press conference near Hobie Beach in Miami, Florida, on Monday, April 1, 2019.
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Ray Martinez, chief of security and spokesman for Ultra Music Festival, gave a wrap-up and took questions regarding the three-day Ultra Music Festival during the event's press conference near Hobie Beach in Miami, Florida, on Monday, April 1, 2019.

Miami Beach won’t be hosting Ultra Music Festival next year.

City commissioners rejected a proposal to start discussions with festival organizers about bringing the three-day electronic dance music event to South Beach in March 2020.

The idea — which Commissioner Ricky Arriola suggested as a way to make spring break festivities better organized and more profitable — sparked a strong response from residents, who lined up to speak at the commission meeting Wednesday night and flooded elected officials with emails.

“Adding the drug infested, ear splitting chaos known as the Ultra Music Festival to Miami Beach at March Break would be pure insanity,” resident Laura Jamieson wrote Beach commissioners under the subject line “Ultra Insane.”

But other residents said they thought Ultra could fix the city’s spring break tourism woes and that Miami Beach should at least entertain the idea.

“We came here because South Beach is cool,” Jonathan Welsh told the commission. “I say let’s give Ultra a chance. Why? Because everybody deserves a conversation at the table.”

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.

The one thing Miami Beach residents agreed on, however, was that they didn’t want a repeat of spring break 2019.

As thousands of young people poured into the South Beach entertainment district in March, residents complained about an out-of-control party atmosphere. Videos of young people fighting on the beach and on city streets made international news. A tourist flew out of the car window and got run over on her way to the airport. Police officers were injured. Traffic ground to a halt as police deployed license plate readers to scan cars coming across the causeways.

“This is about spring break. We’ve got a crisis here,” Arriola said Wednesday night. “Programming has worked very well for us in the instances in which we have done it.”

The idea of bringing Ultra to the Beach was defeated 5 to 2 with several commissioners saying they worried the festival would only contribute to the crowd control issues.

“I’m very wary that this will address the problem,” said Commissioner Mark Samuelian. “In fact, I think it could make it worse.”

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The Miami Beach City Commission voted down one commissioner’s proposal to bring Ultra to South Beach over spring break. Alexia Fodere for The Miami Herald

Ultra, which drew more than 55,000 people this year, is looking for a new home. Festival organizers voluntarily terminated their licensing agreement with the city of Miami earlier this month amid complaints about noise and losing access to Bayfront Park.

Ultra was held on Virginia Key this year, but transportation problems stranded concertgoers for hours and nearby residents complained about the loud music and traffic congestion. The festival started in Miami Beach in 1999 before moving to the downtown Miami waterfront for nearly two decades. Ultra was kicked out of Bayfront Park last year due in part to resident complaints.

Miami commissioners plan to discuss bringing Ultra back at a future meeting, however, and Homestead is also courting the festival.

Local business associations enthusiastically embraced the idea of bringing Ultra to Miami Beach. Some local businesses said their sales were down this year over spring break amid the crowd control problems. An economic impact study commissioned by Ultra says the festival generated $28 million in revenue in Miami-Dade County in 2018 and had a total economic impact of $168 million.

Ceci Velasco, the executive director of the Ocean Drive Business Association, said in a text message that Ultra would be “an asset to our community.” Wendy Kallergis, president of the Greater Miami & the Beaches Hotel Association, sent a letter to Arriola saying that the hotel association is supportive of the idea because the festival generates “a major positive economic impact” in the area.

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