Miami’s secretive plan to return Ultra to Bayfront Park a betrayal of downtown residents | Editorial

Miles Church, 26, from California, dances to the music during the 2019 Ultra Music Festival on Virginia Key in March.
Miles Church, 26, from California, dances to the music during the 2019 Ultra Music Festival on Virginia Key in March. mocner@miamiherald.com

The city of Miami appears to be willing to do more than expected to get the three-day, loud, rowdy — and profitable — Ultra Music Festival back into Bayfront Park, despite pleas from downtown residents who thought they had gotten rid of the intrusive event.

According to a story by Miami Herald reporter Joey Flechas, city administrators are skirting their own rules and regulations to clear the way for festival organizers to get what they want. They are betraying Miami residents.

The revelations come via public records, including emails and texts, as Ultra and the city are finalizing terms of a new proposed agreement to bring the event back to the waterfront park. The full commission will vote on the matter on July 25.

The article says that the records are “shedding light on festival organizers’ political activity and city officials’ efforts to maneuver around city laws to allow the festival to return.”

Festival opponents say there is proof that city administrators drafting the proposal have run into new and irritating roadblocks because of regulations and laws created after Ultra arrived that must now be circumvented so they can get the new contract they want.

The most egregious is an effort by city officials to bypass rules that limit the amount of days Bayfront Park can be reserved for a private event and a set of restrictions on noise, lights and hours of operation for such events. All of these are poison pills to Ultra, which, after holding its event for years in Bayfront Park, relocated to Virginia Key this year, to the glee and relief of downtown residents. But logistics failures, mainly transporting concert goers back and forth from the venue to Miami, gave Ultra a black eye. Its new locale was deemed inadequate. That’s when overtures were made to allow them back to Miami for the bagsful of money the festival brings to the local economy — angry neighbors be damned.

Now Ultra wants to operate outside of the rules — and city administrators appear to be facilitating the sleight of hand. City staffers have discussed how to make special exceptions for the festival, according to city emails and text messages, the Herald reported. How cozy. How reprehensible.

Needless to say, residents affected are livid, members of Miami Downtown Neighbors Alliance, who thought they were done with Ultra say the wheeling and dealing is aimed at sealing the return of the disruptive festival to their front yard.

Sam Dubbin, the attorney representing downtown residents, has sent a letter of complaint criticizing the city Another sticking point for Dubbin: The city’s legal team has changed its position on how many votes are needed to approve a no-bid license agreement, lowering the requirement from four commissioners to three.

To add to the raised eyebrows, the day before commissioners first considered the new Ultra deal, the festival’s parent company cut a $10,000 check to an elections communications committee chaired by Commissioner Keon Hardemon’s aunt, Barbara Hardemon. In the past, Ultra has also given to the election campaigns of Commissioners Joe Carollo, Manolo Reyes and Ken Russell.

The Editorial Board has already made clear that the festival should relocate. Commissioners and city staffers should stop this secretive back-and-forth right now. It’s a shame that commission members are willing to throw aggrieved constituents under the bus. This is why people don’t trust their elected officials.

And Miami’s are proving to be unworthy of that trust.

They should reverse course.

Ultra Music Festival is an electronic dance music event founded in South Florida. Organizers have survived multiple controversies and opposition from politicians and neighbors, who have put up with traffic and crowds in downtown.