Miami Beach

Under new rules, Miami Beach has quieter Memorial Day weekend

Air & Sea Show take over Miami Beach during Memorial Day weekend

Beach goers attend the 2019 Hyundai Air & Sea Show in Miami Beach on Saturday, May 25, 2019.
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Beach goers attend the 2019 Hyundai Air & Sea Show in Miami Beach on Saturday, May 25, 2019.

Memorial Day on Miami Beach seemed calmer this year — thanks to the combination of heightened security and the sonically loud Blue Angels.

The weekend’s two signature events — the loosely affiliated hip-hop concerts known as Urban Beach Week and the military-themed Air and Sea Show — brought out two distinctly different crowds: hip-hop fans mostly in their 20s, and families out to enjoy the third annual military spectacle under blue skies and unusually low humidity.

Both groups arrived to find all 400 of Miami Beach Police Department’s officers out in full force — on foot, bike, vehicle and golf cart — on every corner down Ocean Drive. Metal barriers sectioned off the sidewalk from the street, a tactic also used during spring break, and may have had a chilling effect on the weekend-long party.

Miami Beach Police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez said officers arrested 102 people as of 7 a.m. Monday. That’s slightly less than during last year’s rain-soaked weekend. Many of this year’s arrests were for narcotics and disorderly conduct. But unlike several years ago, no shooting incidents were reported.

“Overall, we’ve obviously had a lot more officers on our streets, which has allowed officers to be more proactive and focus on quality-of-life crimes,” Rodriguez said.

For the city of Miami Beach, the weekend was a successful test for new restrictions passed after spring break. They include rules to keep promoters from holding events at South Beach bars and clubs during peak tourism periods — which city officials hope will prevent unauthorized events from attracting large crowds — and increased penalties for bars and clubs that allow people under the age of 21 to enter.

“Overall, we did see a calmer Memorial Day weekend,” he said.

For repeat visitor James Davis, 26, making his third visit for the holiday weekend, the result was too tame. This is the thinnest he’s seen the crowd, he said.

“We said we’re going somewhere else next year,” said Davis, who was visiting from Cincinnati, Ohio, with seven friends. “The police, they’ve been a little tight. I see them everywhere I look.”

“They’ve been harassing people,” said Davis’ friend, Kenny Williams, 28.

The extra security, barricades and restricted access to Ocean Drive were issues for Miamian James Dieudonne, who lives in Little Haiti and is no fan of parking in garages.

“It’s a good time out here, it’s a good vibe, but at the same time you don’t want to restrict your timeline,” said Dieudonne, 34. On the police, he said, “Every year it seems like more and more.”

Newcomers April Pigram and Chernay Taylor, both 29 and visiting from Memphis, Tennessee, didn’t notice the changes and enjoyed the weekend.

“Nothing too crazy, everyone is just kind of hype,” said Taylor. “I thought it would be like Girls Gone Wild.”

“It’s pretty laid back,” Pigram said.

Miami Beach Police had help from other local law enforcement agencies, including Miami Dade Police and Miami Gardens Police. Miami-Dade Schools Police Chief Edwin Lopez said his department deployed 25 officers per shift over two shifts. Police presence was downgraded by Monday.

“It’s always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared,” Rodriguez said.

By the holiday on Monday, Washington and Collins avenues reverted to their normal traffic patterns, and pedestrians strolled around in beachwear. Some waited in cafes with luggage or perched at streetside bars to take in the last of the weekend.

City of Miami Beach spokeswoman Melissa Berthier called it “a successful weekend.” She attributed that to a diversity of events and a crackdown on new rules for club promoters. Code enforcement did not have to shut down any businesses for unpermitted events, she said.

Though establishments are no fan of the metal barriers, Ceci Velasco, executive director of the Ocean Drive Business Association, said she’s noticed that Memorial Day weekend has been calmer in recent years.

“We’re grateful so far it’s been a pleasant and fairly smooth Memorial Day weekend,” she said. “I think the police are doing their job.”

Adrian Rodriguez, who has been working Memorial Day weekend in Miami Beach for the past decade, noticed a drop in attendance.

“Even for a Monday, it’s slow,” said Rodriguez, a 33-year-old waiter at Il Giardino. He says it’s because of the police presence. “That’s why this year is a lot more chilling.”

Wendy Kallergis, president of the Greater Miami Beaches & Hotel Association, said buisness was good for the 85 Miami Beach hotels that are part of her organization. She said many of those were full or at 80 percent capacity.

“I just feel it was a very well organized,” Kallergis said. “I saw families, saw people of all ages. It just seems like a really well received event.”

The long holiday weekend had its rough spots. Rodriguez, the Miami Beach Police spokesman, said 200 people on non-street legal vehicles — dirtbikes, motorcycles and ATVs — rode southbound through Miami Beach “unannounced, operating recklessly,” he said.

Rodriguez said one man abandoned his vehicle and tossed a firearm as he fled. Police found the firearm and apprehended the man, who was a convicted felon with an extensive arrest record.

Emergency workers rescued five people caught in rip currents from the ocean Sunday. Later that night, a large boat with 13 passengers washed up on the shore near the Eden Roc Miami Beach. No injuries were reported.