Miami Beach

Miami Beach said no to Ultra but might still host a music event over spring break

Miami Beach Police confiscate alcohol among spring breakers

The Miami Beach PD posted a video on Twitter on Thursday, March 21, 2019, showing Miami Beach Police officers apparently confiscating alcohol from spring breakers.
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The Miami Beach PD posted a video on Twitter on Thursday, March 21, 2019, showing Miami Beach Police officers apparently confiscating alcohol from spring breakers.

Miami Beach won’t be hosting Ultra Music Festival over spring break next year, but the city could still welcome music events as part of an effort to make the yearly pilgrimage of college students to the island safer and more organized.

At a City Commission meeting Wednesday, elected officials authorized the tourism department to put out a request asking event organizers to pitch ideas for March 2020. The ideal event would need to last for the entire month and include hotel packages to entice visitors to stay on the island, boosting local businesses and limiting traffic congestion, said Matt Kenny, the city’s tourism director. Kenny said he already has been approached by several companies who are interested in putting on smaller concerts on the beach every weekend evening in March, as opposed to all-day music festivals.

“I think hopefully the ultimate goal is that the concerts will bring a mix of people and everyone will feel welcome and no one will feel endangered,” said City Manager Jimmy Morales.

Last month elected officials discarded the idea of courting Ultra Music Festival, which is looking for a new home after deciding not to return to Virginia Key, but said at Wednesday’s commission meeting that all other options will be considered. One commissioner, Michael Góngora, put an item on the meeting agenda suggesting that the city consider a range of possibilities including concerts, art events and even Formula One auto racing.

Residents complained about an out-of-control party atmosphere over spring break this year as thousands of young people poured into the South Beach entertainment district during March. Videos of young people fighting on the beach and on city streets made international news. A tourist flew out of a 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.

Partygoers brawl on South Beach during what residents have described as a particularly wild spring break.

The city initially responded by beefing up the police presence, but after seeing the price tag for continuing with that approach — an estimated $2.6 million in 2020 — and the success of hosting events over Memorial Day weekend, elected officials said they’re open to considering an organized event for spring break. Commissioners also passed a range of new restrictions for crowded event periods.

The idea is that an organized event would help the city manage crowds and prevent the unorganized beach party that typically migrates to Ocean Drive after dark. This year, Miami Beach saw a calm Memorial Day weekend — which is typically one of the busiest holiday periods on the island — an improvement city officials attributed in part to organized events such as the military-themed Air and Sea Show and a concert featuring Flo Rida.

But, as Mayor Dan Gelber noted, the approach could backfire.

“Of course the question is if we do an event that programs that time, are we going to have twice the problems or half the problems?” he said. “I don’t have the answer to that.”

Kenny said that music events typically don’t require a massive police presence because attendees who have paid a lot for tickets don’t want to do anything that might get them kicked out and because they’re all enjoying the same activity together.

“That’s what we need to start looking at is bringing a very united vision so both residents and tourists know if you come here in March this is what we’re going to be doing,” he told the Miami Herald.

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Alycia Pascual-Pena, right, dances to the Miami Beach Police DJ behind them on March 22, 2019. Miami Beach Police Department used their own DJ in South Beach as they began to toughen policing during spring break after outbreaks of fights and increased alcohol and drug consumption. Maria Alejandra Cardona For the Miami Herald

Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán suggested that the city ask event organizers to host concerts at venues in other parts of the city, such as the North Beach Bandshell on Collins Avenue and 72nd Street, in addition to South Beach.

This isn’t the first time Miami Beach has brainstormed fixes for the city’s spring break woes.

In March 2018, crowds overwhelmed the South Beach entertainment district one Saturday night, prompting police to temporarily block incoming traffic on the MacArthur Causeway. Commissioners later discussed banning scooter rentals, limiting alcohol sales and even blasting Mozart from loudspeakers to kill the party vibe. The city didn’t end up blaring classical music, but elected officials did place new restrictions on scooter rentals.

The idea of hosting Formula One auto racing didn’t come up during Wednesday’s meeting and Góngora said that he hadn’t spoken to race organizers but had merely suggested the event as a possibility. Formula One — which earlier this year abandoned the idea of hosting a race in downtown Miami over concerns about the impact it would have on residents and businesses — did not respond to a request for comment.

Miami Herald staff writer Adam Beasley contributed to this report

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