Party crowds trigger efforts to turn down the volume in South Beach


MIAMI (AP) – Miami Beach wants to turn the volume down in the party district of South Beach, citing increasingly loud crowds, public drinking and increasing violence, but efforts to curb the mirth have raised complaints about racism, classism and business practices along one of the country’s most glamorous waterfronts.

The 10-block stretch of Ocean Drive known for its art deco hotels, restaurants, and bars is sandwiched between two areas that cater to the more affluent tourists. Tension has been boiling for years as the holiday crowd has grown from a few weekends a year to being a year-round presence. The situation worsened during the pandemic when city authorities closed the main street to vehicles and allowed restaurants to offer more outdoor seating, inviting a carnival atmosphere on the street. .

More than 1,000 people were arrested during this year’s spring break, when the city imposed a rare 8 p.m. curfew. Authorities sent military-style vehicles to disperse predominantly black crowds with rubber bullets, drawing criticism from black activists and spawning a parody on “Saturday Night Live”.

“We cannot accept this as our norm,” said Mayor Dan Gelber. “What we’ve called an entertainment district has become an incredible magnet for crime and disorder, and all that it earns in income is just not worth the heartache.”

Last month, the city increased the number of police and code enforcement officials covering the neighborhood to their highest numbers in history. The mayor called this an interim measure, saying the city could not afford to increase the number of police on a permanent basis.

His long-term proposal would rename the blocks known as the Entertainment District by hosting high-end concerts and fairs, focusing on family-friendly events, and promoting the often overlooked but impressive museums and symphony of the city. He also wants to limit loud music and stop alcohol sales at 2 a.m.

The region has grown and shrunk over the course of several decades. It fell into decline after the mid-century heyday, but TV shows like “Miami Vice” made it cool again in the 1980s, and models gathered in the beachfront estate of the Fashion designer Gianni Versace in the 1990s. More recently, rap lyrics have immortalized South Beach.

The closure of Ocean Drive, which remains in effect as the city plans its future, has wreaked financial havoc on hotels and restaurants.

Tom Glassie, longtime owner of the Avalon Hotel, has met with city officials and residents over the past two years, struggling with “what do we want to be when we grow up.”

“The nightlife has taken over. We were the best nightlife, ”he said. “There was nothing wrong with it, but it just got too marked” and overshadowed the arts and culture.

The mayor’s proposal also aims to increase office and residential space and reduce the number of bars and clubs.

Zoning regulations allow both residential and commercial space, but no building can exceed five levels, which deters investors who prefer to build luxury skyscrapers. Additionally, art deco facades that offer glamorous backdrops have historic building protections, making the cost of renovations prohibitive for some developers.

Instead, low-end bars and hookah lounges are popping up while a few blocks away, several upscale New York restaurateurs have opened new businesses.

Other companies like the legendary Clevelander Hotel and Bar and Mango’s nightclub complain that they have been caught in the crosshairs and unfairly lumped together with bars and nightclubs causing problems.

“We’re tired of being turned into bad guys, of continuing to blame a 30-year-old company that is one of the city’s biggest taxpayers and one of the biggest employers,” said Joshua Wallack, director of the city. operation of Café Tropical Mango.

“People get off these cruise ships dreaming of dancing salsa at Mango.”

Alexander Tachmes, attorney for the Clevelander, accused the mayor of “really stepping up the pressure on Ocean Drive’s anti-business rhetoric” last summer and essentially trying to siphon off established businesses while the city was trying to rename and court more cultural businesses.

The Clevelander sued the city for the 2 a.m. alcohol ban in May and won a temporary injunction until a trial begins this fall. The owners also asked the court to reopen Ocean Drive, arguing that the pandemic restrictions were no longer necessary, but they were unsuccessful.

The bar said the chaos on the street made it difficult to maintain a nightly activity. The Clevelander checks IDs and pays for security, but it has suffered vandalism and fighting that spills out from crowds nearby. The bar voluntarily closed in early March as the city struggled to regain control over spring break.

The majority of “problem tourists” are not students, but come from out of state in search of problems, city officials said.

Some black activists have accused the city of using too harsh police tactics to disperse crowds and, on a larger scale, of trying to attract only certain types of visitors, while discouraging others.

Ruban Roberts, former Miami chapter chief of the NAACP, called police tactics “callous” and “overzealous” in an op-ed in the Miami Herald after a disastrous spring break 2020. Roberts alleged that black tourists were treated “like second-class citizens”.

Part of South Beach caters to middle-income guests as well, across the upscale playground that includes the Fontainebleau, Delano, and Faena hotels.

“If you can’t afford $ 200 for two for dinner, you have the right to eat, have a good drink and watch a football game,” said Tachmes, who also represents two high-end restaurants. . “You don’t have to have a Michelin restaurant to eliminate crime.”

During notoriously crowded weekends, some websites offer the best places to party and exclusive poolside parties, while other sites offer advice for residents and vacationers looking to avoid the fray.

In an attempt to deter large crowds, the city canceled all programs amid the pandemic, leaving a void where tens of thousands of people gathered without doing anything. An initial lack of policing created an atmosphere where anything goes, and businesses complained that crowds were consuming marijuana, drinking and treating the area like a house party.

Ken Koppel, chairman of SoBe Safe, a group of 400 concerned residents, said some tourists are just “armed drug dealers who disrespect cops and crime laws” and gather in crowds too large to that the police can control them.

And even with the increased police presence, which Koppel said many residents support, “who wants to live or pay for an armed camp forever?”


An earlier version of this report incorrectly spelled Gianni Versace’s name.


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