In an effort to save the popular Ultra Music Festival from being kicked out of downtown Miami, the outdoor party’s organizers have enlisted the help of Miami Beach’s outgoing police chief.
Ultra organizers on Friday announced Ray Martinez’s appointment as security director in a press release heavy on his law-enforcement credentials. Martinez has 35 years of law-enforcement experience in South Florida, including 22 years with the Miami Police Department before he went to the Beach.
Martinez’s hiring is the latest move by Ultra organizers in anticipation of a decision Thursday by Miami city commissioners on the festival’s future in downtown Miami. Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and Commissioner Marc Sarnoff are aggressively pushing to oust the festival from Bayfront Park, citing unsafe conditions, noise and quality-of-life issues for residents.
Martinez said his first tasks will be to analyze what went wrong this year after 28-year-old security guard Ericka Mack was trampled by gatecrashers, and to create a safety plan for the next event. Mack is recovering at home after being hospitalized with a skull fracture and a broken leg.
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“It’s really about making sure that, number one, it’s a great music event, but that, number two, it’s a safe and orderly event that people can go to and have a good time, and come home safely,” Martinez said.
Ultra is pushing back against critics who want the event to move. Local hotels, nightclubs and prominent DJs and fans have rallied behind the festival, writing support letters and taking to social media with one unified cry: “Save Ultra!”
Organizers highlight the event’s economic impact, pointing to a 2012 study commissioned by Ultra. According to the study, concertgoers spend a total of $79 million per year in the region. The city-affiliated Bayfront Park Management Trust, which manages the festival site, is expected to turn a $600,000 profit this year from Ultra.
“This is what we’re about, we’re a tourism-related community,” said Rodney Barreto, Ultra’s spokesman. “We need to do a better job and explain better what we are and who we are.”
Barreto said chasing the festival out is “a knee-jerk reaction” by politicians who have unfairly categorized the electronic dance music fans as drug-crazed young people.
“I think a lot of people didn’t understand rap until they really got to understand rap. It’s too convenient to label it as a drug rave because you don’t understand it,” he said. “That’s not a fair observation or label.”
Sarnoff, an Ultra critic, said his primary concern is safety. He said he does not believe Bayfront Park can handle the crowds of up to 60,000 people per day who attend the three-day festival — even if festival organizers hire Martinez to lead its security team.
“I’ve known Ray for a couple of years. I think it’s great he’s got a lucrative job, but you cannot pen up 60,000 people safely,” said Sarnoff, who added there are other facilities in the Miami area better suited for Ultra such as Marlins Park or the Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Ultra believes downtown Miami is the ideal location for the festival, now in its 16th year, and organizers hope to deal with any security concerns under Martinez’s guidance.
Martinez served for more than a decade at the Miami Beach Police Department, and has been chief for almost three years. The department has experience handling large crowds: Beach police deal with throngs of beach-goers every Spring Break season, direct traffic during the Miami International Boat Show and pull extra shifts during Art Basel.
But perhaps the most heavily policed Beach event is Memorial Day weekend, also know as Urban Beach Week. During Martinez’s tenure, the Beach enacted a crowd-control and safety plan that has been both applauded by residents as creating a safer environment and derided by civil rights groups as creating a discriminatory police state. The strict measures have included barricades as well as scanners that read every single vehicle’s license plate as drivers flock to the beach, creating a traffic nightmare.
“I’m not comparing this to Memorial Day, but in many ways it’s very similar,” Martinez said of Ultra. “You’re talking about large crowds, heavy traffic.”
Regalado said that he will not budge from his position that Ultra can no longer be hosted in Miami’s urban core, though he said he welcomes a discussion.
“The issue to me is still quality of life for the residents of downtown. I get emails and calls all the time from residents who complain about the problems Ultra creates for them.”
On Thursday, Ultra supporters and critics will have an opportunity to state their case at the city’s commission meeting.
The Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association recently sent a letter to city officials in support of keeping Ultra. Wendy Kallergis, president and CEO of the association said that board members, about 35 in all, unanimously agreed to the statement.
Peggy Benua, general manager of the Dream South Beach hotel, said hoteliers are happy with the guests and room rates during the festival.
“Miami is known in a positive way for this event, on an international scale. It’s a different type of guest than Art Basel brings in, but honestly, from the hotel perspective, it’s the same: It’s a high-end event with high-end guests and ancillary events,” Benua said. “In my opinion, it’s just as important as Art Basel.”