The Miami Beach City Commission voted Wednesday in favor of ending alcohol sales earlier in the city’s entertainment district during spring break.
Alcohol sales would stop at 3 a.m. — two hours earlier than normal — for 12 days in March on Ocean Drive between Fifth and 16th streets. Other establishments on Collins Avenue and Washington Avenue would be also affected if the ordinance passes.
“We’re being promoted as a place where anything goes, and it’s really quite alarming to me,” Mayor Dan Gelber said.
The city commission voted 5-2 in favor of the proposal, which is subject to a second vote.
On Wednesday, the commission also unanimously passed an ordinance to require Ocean Drive bars between Fifth and 15th streets to hire an off-duty Miami Beach police officer from midnight until 30 minutes past closing time. The measure requires businesses to have an off-duty officer outside their property on Saturdays and Sundays. For holiday weekends or city-sponsored events, it extends from Saturday to Monday.
The Miami Herald reported it would cost about $350 a night for one officer, at a rate of up to $70 per hour.
Commissioners Ricky Arriola and Michael Góngora voted against the proposal to end alcohol sales at 3 a.m.
Arriola expressed his frustration toward City Manager Jimmy Morales during Wednesday’s meeting for not presenting the commission with a viable spring-break plan sooner.
“I’m really upset that we’re even talking about this in the context that we’re talking about it,” Arriola said. “We’re two weeks away from spring break. You know Jimmy, I’m very upset, very troubled that we’re here. A year ago you were given very specific direction on how this commission wanted to handle this year’s spring break, and that was go forward with programming.
“We didn’t get a plan ‘til six weeks ago. It was super half-baked. You asked us for a $1.5 million amendment to the operating budget for a plan that none of us vetted prior to that meeting, and it was half-baked. We didn’t even have any specifics.”
Arriola said commissioners rejected Morales’ $1.5 million amendment because it was a “huge number,” but they agreed to provide $500,000.
“We still haven’t even talked about what that $500,000 is going to be spent on,” Arriola said. “As I understand, the person who was spearheading that effort resigned in protest over this whole fiasco.”
Arriola was referring to the resignation of Matt Kenny, the city’s tourism and cultural director.
“None of us feel comfortable that this is going to be an actual solution to the problem,” Arriola said of the proposal to close bars earlier during spring break. “I feel like we were misled. We were manipulated. A year ago we told you what we wanted, and you didn’t give it to us. You did not give it to us.”
Gelber’s initial proposal called for alcohol sales to end at 2 a.m. over a 17-day period. However, the proposal was amended to move last call back to 3 a.m. and for the period to last 12 days.
“This is very creative, but the way that it’s passing exemplifies the fact that nobody voting for this really thinks it’s that necessary or you wouldn’t water this down in such an odd way,” Góngora said.
Gelber mentioned several Florida cities that have adopted similar measures.
“You can go to Fort Lauderdale, Panama City, Daytona Beach, these communities have all responded in ways very similar to how I’m suggesting we need to respond, which is to try to send out the message that this isn’t a place to go if you want to go to a worst-behavior party or an anything-goes party,” Gelber said. “You just have to send that message out somehow.”
Several business owners and residents also spoke during Wednesday’s meeting on how to best control the chaos of spring break. It included David Wallack, the owner of Mango’s Tropical Cafe, which is one of the best-known venues on Ocean Drive.
“Our main business is tourism. It’s an international level of tourism,” Wallack said. “To use also the example of Fort Lauderdale and how they got rid of it in Panama Beach, you can even throw in Coconut Grove as a matter of fact.
“Fort Lauderdale went through a 30-year depression. They dropped off the face of the earth. Panama Beach [had] a multi-year depression. They are still trying to figure out how to come back.”
Ruben Roberts, chair of the Miami-Dade chapter of the NAACP, said he worried the earlier close times could lead to more arrests.
“My primary concern is this: If you close down at 2 o’clock, where are the people going to go?” he asked. “I feel that they will be out [and] about walking aimlessly. One of the things that’s going to happen is there are going to be more arrests.
“My major concern is disproportionately, the people that will be arrested, will be African-American people.”
Having just had Super Bowl LIV earlier this month, the city of Miami is also scheduled to host major events like the Winter Music Conference from March 16-18 and Ultra Music Festival from March 20-22.
“Everybody has got the same common goal,” said Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jerry Libbin. “We all want safe, clean. We understand you’re in between a rock and a hard place. If you do nothing, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.”
“We want to be good partners and we want to try and find the best soft landing if we can.”
Gelber along with Commissioners Micky Steinberg, Mark Samuelian, Steven Meiner and David Richardson voted in favor of setting last call at 3 a.m. and reducing the period to 12 days.
“Well, we’re going to do it I think for 12 days,” Richardson said. “And if we see that we could shorten it, it’ll be a gift to the business community.”
The proposal is scheduled for a second reading and likely final vote on Feb. 26.