South Beach party crowds inspire effort to reduce volume

Miami Beach is trying to reduce the volume of South Beach's party area.

South Beach party crowds inspire effort to reduce volume

Miami Beach is trying to reduce the volume of South Beach's party area. They cite increasing raucous crowds and public drinking, and growing violence. However, efforts to curb the carousing are being criticized for racism, classism, and poor business practices on one of the most famous waterfronts in the country. Ocean Drive's 10-block stretch is home to art deco bars, restaurants, and hotels. It is also surrounded by two areas that are more popular with wealthy tourists. As the party crowd grew from just a few weekends per year to a regular presence all year, tension has been building for years. After the pandemic, city officials made it impossible for vehicles to use the main drag and permitted outdoor seating in restaurants. This created a carnival-like atmosphere that encouraged people to gather on the streets. This year, more than 1,000 people were detained during spring break. The city also imposed an 8 p.m. curfew. Police used military-style vehicles to disperse Black people with rubber bullets. This prompted criticism from Black activists, and even a parody on Saturday Night Live. Mayor Dan Gelber stated that "We cannot accept it as our normal." "What we call an entertainment district has become a magnet for crime, disorder, and any revenue it provides is just not worth all the heartache." The city's police and code enforcement officers were increased to their highest level in history last month. It was a temporary measure that the mayor described as a "stop-gap" solution, noting that the city can't afford to raise the number of police officers permanently. The mayor's long-term plan would be to rebrand blocks called the entertainment district, hosting more expensive concerts and fairs and focusing on family-friendly events. He also plans to market the city's impressive museums and symphony. He wants to ban loud music and stop alcohol sales at 2 AM. Over the years, the area has seen many changes. After a brief period of popularity in midcentury, it fell into decline. However, TV shows such as "Miami Vice," which was popular in 1980s, made it a hot spot again. Supermodels also gathered at Gianni Versace's estate on the oceanfront in the 1990s. South Beach has been immortalized by rap lyrics in recent years. As the city plans its future, the Ocean Drive closure has caused financial havoc for restaurants and hotels. Tom Glassie, the long-time owner of Avalon Hotel has been meeting with residents and city officials for two years to discuss "what do you want to be when you grow up?" "The nightlife overtook." He said that we were the best nightlife. There was nothing wrong with it, but it became too branded and dominated arts and culture. Mayor's proposal would also increase office space and residential space, and reduce the number of bars or clubs. The zoning regulations allow residential and commercial space, but buildings cannot be higher than five stories. This discourages investors who want to build high-end luxury high-rises. Developers may find it difficult to renovate art deco facades with their historic building protections. While low-end hookah bars and lounges thrive, blocks away, many high-end New York restaurateurs open new businesses. Others, such as the Clevelander bar and hotel and Mango's nightclub, complain of being unfairly lumped with trouble-making bars and nightclubs. Joshua Wallack, chief operating officers of Mango's Tropical Cafe, said, "We're tired being made into the negative guy, to continue blaming a 30-year old business that is one the largest taxpayers and one the largest employers." "People leave these cruise ships dreaming about dancing salsa at Mango's," said Joshua Wallack, chief operating officer of Mango's Tropical Cafe. Alexander Tachmes, an attorney representing the Clevelander, claimed that the mayor had "really turned up the heat" on Ocean Drive's anti-business rhetoric last summer. He also accused him of trying to siphon off existing businesses as the city tries to rebrand and attract more cultural businesses. The city was sued by the Clevelander over the May 2 a.m. alcohol ban. A temporary injunction was granted until the trial begins this fall. They also tried to get Ocean Drive reopened. However, they were denied by the court. According to the bar, the chaos on the street makes it difficult for them to run a nightclub. Although the Clevelander checks IDs, pays security and secures the bar, it has been the victim of vandalism as well as fights from other nearby residents. The city was unable to control spring break and the bar was forced to close early in March. According to city officials, the majority of "problem tourists", aren't college students but people from outside of the state who are looking for trouble. Some Black activists accuse the city of using excessively harsh police tactics to disperse people and, on a greater scale, trying to discourage others while attracting certain types of visitors. Ruban Roberts, the former head of NAACP's Miami Chapter, called police tactics "callous and overzealous" after a disastrous 2020 spring vacation. In an opinion piece published in the Miami Herald, Roberts claimed that Black tourists were treated "as 2nd-class citizens." South Beach caters to middle-income customers on the other side of the high-end playground, which includes Fontainebleau and Delano hotels. Tachmes, who represents two fine restaurants, said that even if you cannot afford $200 for two for dinner, it is possible to enjoy a meal and a drink while watching a football match. "You don’t need to own a Michelin restaurant to eradicate crime," said Tachmes. Other websites offer tips for residents and tourists looking to avoid the crowds, as well as information on best places to party and exclusive poolside parties during busy weekends. The city cancelled all programs during the pandemic to try to deter large crowds. This left a vacuum where thousands of people had nothing to do. Businesses complained that the atmosphere was chaotic because there were not enough police officers to control it. They also reported that people were drinking, smoking, and treating the area as if they were at a party. Chairman of SoBe Safe, which is a group representing 400 residents concerned, Ken Koppel said that some tourists are simply "gun-toting drugs sellers who disrespect cops, misdemeanor statutes", and gather in large crowds that are difficult for police to control. Koppel stated that many residents support increased police presence. However, he said that "who wants to live or pay for an armoured camp forever?"

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