Memorial Day Weekend Plans Still in Flux Six Weeks Out

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Memorial Day Weekend Plans Still in Flux Six Weeks Out:

Despite lack of required plans, Air and Sea Show and Concert still anticipated

Miami Beach has big plans for improving the Memorial Day Weekend experience but most of those plans are still in flux and that created some tense moments at this week’s City Commission meeting. After twenty years of unsanctioned, unprogrammed activities, and large crowds which drove many residents out of town, the City tried something new last year with the Air and Sea Show. Despite skepticism and a late start, the good reception turned the skeptics on the City Commission into supporters of the Show. So when the promoter, Mickey Markoff, asked for the opportunity to program a concert during the weekend, Commissioners went along, agreeing to reimburse Markoff $250,000 of the event’s costs. In addition, they agreed to sponsor the Air and Sea Show for $350,000 and waive another $154,000 in fees.
 
This week, concerns were raised about the plans when Markoff missed key deadlines for submitting required documents in the special events permitting process, including a life safety plan, sanitation plan, parking and transportation plan, and proof of insurance. City Manager Jimmy Morales sent a strongly worded Letter to Commission on April 9 indicating Markoff had not presented the required documents outlining his plans nor had he submitted signed contracts for the artists scheduled to perform at the concert. The event’s website states that Shaggy, MAX, and Kent Jones will perform.
 
Via a public records request, RE:MiamiBeach obtained an email exchange between Savanna Bell-Stevens, City of Miami Beach Film & Event Production Manager, and Joanne Green of Project Green Production. In the original email dated April 6 with the subject “Requirements due today 4/6 for Air & Sea MDW Show”, Bell-Stevens lists 13 items outstanding which the City requires to issue special events permits for the show, concert, and ancillary activities. The list includes a Site Plan, a Run of Show to include “all proposed Air & Sea activations and concert venue line-up plus Motor Cross and Lumber Jack activations”, required schedules for Police, Fire, and Ocean Rescue personnel known as a life-safety plan, a parking and transportation plan, and sanitation plan.
 
Tuesday evening, the night before this week’s City Commission meeting, the final site plan and run of show documents were provided.
 
In her email, Bell-Stevens concludes:
“Also please be advised that the Community Review Meeting is scheduled for Thursday, April 12 at 2 pm and you will need to attend and present the entire event with all associated and final details above for the community. We look forward to seeing you and reviewing pertinent documents.”
 
While the Community Review Meeting did take place, no additional documents were provided.
 
RE:MiamiBeach reached Markoff late Friday afternoon who said “Everything is 100% submitted. We are moving forward and we are very excited about putting on a great event … we have a great concert and fireworks and a great Air and Sea Show.”
 
Despite assurances from Green that several of the items would be submitted with the site plans, as of Friday evening City spokeswoman Melissa Berthier said additional materials still had not been received.
 
When asked about the missed deadlines, Markoff said, “The City had asked us to put on a concert and they signed their deal with us on March 29th.” During negotiations, he said there was a change in the concert venue. “We moved the entire event to 10th Street from 14th, so to be able to put together the site plan and all of those details [for the permits], they’ve given us until April 2nd so that’s three days.”
 
The first round of plans for the Air and Sea Show were due January 29th with final plans due March 26th. The deadlines for submitting concert plans was April 2 and no later than April 6.
 
“All along we explained that there’s no way all that would be able to be turned in according to that deadline,” Markoff said. “We told them we would do everything we could to expedite and get everything in as quickly as we possibly could.”
 
Asked about the number of documents outstanding, Markoff answered, “We did submit a number of the items that needed to be put in right before the Commission meeting that was after that letter was written. A number of the things that have to get turned in depend on each other. Until you have the site plan, you can’t insert the other pieces of the puzzle. One thing follows the next so now everything is happening as quickly as it possibly can and everything is moving forward and we’re excited about it.” He added, “Our team has been in constant communication” with the City.
 
Regarding the artist contracts, he said, “The contracts are all signed … the only issue that we have right now is that one of the contracts is so long, it’s over 10 megabytes. I’m trying to break it into pieces to get it into an email.”
 
“We’re really excited about this and when we were asked to bring this event to South Florida we worked really hard to bring it here and we delivered that and we have every intention of doing it again,” Markoff said. It’s an opportunity “to say thanks to the people who protect our freedom. We’re working around the clock to bring this together. I think it’s going to generate a lot of community spirit and revenue for businesses, showcase the town positively, and have something for everybody, a patriotic, family-oriented event.”
 
Promising a “legacy establishing event,” he said, “There’s no need for concern.”
 
At their meeting this week, several Commissioners did express concern – in general over the amount of money being spent on the weekend, including the Air and Sea Show, concert, and additional programming recommended by the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Memorial Day Weekend and, specifically, over the lack of plans from Markoff’s team.
 
The Blue Ribbon panel was formed by former Mayor Philip Levine after racial tensions arose last year following a fatal shooting during a relatively calm Memorial Day Weekend. The Panel’s charge was to help change the dynamic around the weekend, to embrace it, and create programming to eventually change the party atmosphere. Mayor Dan Gelber continued the Panel which has been meeting since January.

The Blue Ribbon Panel has planned a Unity in the Community event for next week, and during Memorial Day Weekend, a barbeque cook-off, and gospel concert, among a couple of smaller cultural events such as a poetry reading. In addition to the money allocated for the Air and Sea Show, Commissioners last month approved $100,000 for the cultural programming recommended by the Blue Ribbon Panel.
 
At Wednesday’s meeting, they expressed concern about the limited time to plan the events this year and if there were too many events taking place on what is already a high impact weekend. Eva Silverstein, Director of Tourism, Culture and Economic Development for the City, said the new programming was designed to be smaller, low impact cultural events.
 
Mayor Gelber said, “To me the most important thing is, we’re doing this because we’re taking a different approach. We’re trying to program rather than just let [Memorial Day Weekend activities] happen because we have capacity issues when it just happens. To me what’s very important is we do nothing to exacerbate the capacity issues we have during Memorial Day.”
 
“I like programming culturally diverse programs but what I don’t want to do is anything that says more people need to come to Miami Beach because what people have to understand is our biggest problem on Memorial Day is capacity,” he continued.
 
Saying “Spring break really reminded us all that this is not going away, this issue of capacity”, Gelber added, “Any of the activities that increase our capacity challenges, we should avoid … That should be the lens we use or our metric to inform our decision making.”
 
Commissioner Ricky Arriola, the Chair of the Blue Ribbon Panel disagreed. “Stop with the fear and let’s try to do something else because we know we have capacity issues and we have large crowds, but if we keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing for 20 years, you’re going to get the same result.”
 
“What we’re trying to do is something different,” Arriola said. “Last year we took a big bold leap with the Air and Sea Show and, guess what? It worked out pretty well. So, the little things that we’re trying to do, we’re trying to elevate the experience for our guests for the entire weekend.”
 
“The crowds are already here,” he continued. “The question is what are we going to do with them. Right now, it’s one big street party and that’s not working. So, if we could sort of change the people that are coming and move away from street parties to experiences like we have, whether it’s the Food and Wine Festival, Art Basel or what have you, I think that would be a good tradeoff that we would all be happy about.”
 
Commissioner Michael Gongora said, “We’re spending an incredible amount of money on this event, more than any of this nature than I’ve ever seen before. This is an incredible cash investment and we’re six weeks away and I feel that the event is still kind of unfolding and not to a final stage and I have a concern about putting more and more money into this weekend.”
 
Commissioner Micky Steinberg agreed. “Obviously there’s no secret that I don’t support the expansion of any events that weekend but where we’re at right now … the Air and Sea Show concert, we just got a very troubling LTC and while I didn’t support the concert portion of this, I know some of my colleagues really feel strongly about it. I’m concerned.”

Aleman responded, “As you know the event producer hasn’t signed contracts with the artists because at that point 50% deposit would be due and the sponsor needs the check from Hyundai [the event’s main sponsor] in order to pay those deposits so that’s why there’s no artist contracts.”
 
“I don’t care about the concert, don’t even necessarily want the concert,” Aleman said. “There’s a problem. No concert. No Air and Sea Show. The Air and Sea Show is not what brings in the corporate sponsorships to pay for the Air and Sea Show which is largely all cost. The concert does that because in order to obtain the corporate sponsorships you need a certain number of eyeballs all corralled in one place looking in the same direction. That’s how you sell the marketing value to the corporate sponsors who are gonna write the checks to pay for the cost of the Air and Sea Show. So, if we cancel the concert we will lose the Air and Sea Show. Personally, that’s too big a loss. That Air and Sea Show was the best thing to happen to Memorial Day Weekend since I’ve lived in Miami Beach and I moved here in 1994.”
 
She added, “So I think it’s, for me, really incumbent upon the City Administration to work to support having the Air and Sea Show here and working to support that concert. Now, unfortunately, you know, we all know the history or most of us do, of the Air and Sea Show and the politics around it and so forth. We have, as a body, made it difficult. We’ve interrupted the fundraising stream for the past two years” by the amount of time it took to get the contracts negotiated and signed.
 
“The problem with this year’s concert is we’ve got a really small budget,” Aleman said. “We authorized $250,000 that we wouldn’t have authorized, but if we didn’t, we would have lost the Air and Sea Show itself and left a big void in the middle of Memorial Day Weekend and I think that would have been a painful and unfortunate loss that was self-inflicted by us.”
 
Steinberg said, “You’re talking six weeks away.” While she was one of the skeptics of the Air and Sea Show, she said after “great feedback”, when it came back for approval this year she said, “You know what? If we’re going to copy and paste what we did last year and emulate that and see where it goes organically from there, I’m good with that. But then when it came forward to expanding above and beyond what we did last year, that’s where I said no. Now I’m hearing in order to even have what we had last year you need this other component that we’re not even getting those hard deadlines met.”
 
[Earlier in the day, Commissioners sought stronger assurances that detailed plans be ironed out for the proposed Miami Beach Pop Festival almost 18 months in advance before they felt comfortable moving forward with it.]
 
Morales said, “One of the safeguards we have here, at least compared to the World Out Games is that we made it very clear – you all made it very clear – when you allocated the $250,000 that it was reimbursement only after the fact, so if for some reason the concert doesn’t take place there’s no harm no foul in the sense that we’re not out any money.” The City lost $200,000 last year after events for the World Out Games were cancelled due to a shortfall in fundraising and what was later termed “shoddy” accounting.
 
“He has at different times tried to ask for money in advance,” Morales said of Markoff “because of the difficulties he’s had. We’ve held firm our ground that this is only reimbursement after the fact … similarly actually with the Air and Sea Show."

When asked about cash flow problems, Markoff told RE:MiamiBeach he is "comfortable with cash flow now". RE:MiamiBeach had learned not all vendors from last year were paid in a timely manner and, to that, Markoff said, "I personally invested in this show greatly last year ... It was a very short window to produce the entire project. I invested in the show and now everybody has been paid."

At the Commission meeting, Morales said, “It is challenging. We try to get these permits done as quickly as possible. At your direction, we’ll work very hard to get him there … Last year I was very nervous about the Air and Sea Show but he pulled it off. A concert is a different kind of thing. But at this point he is taking the position that one is linked to the other.”
 
Arriola said “This is an extremely complicated thing to do. You’re trying to produce a show in a limited amount of time with a lot of resistance and a non-existent budget. But it’s very complicated so you have this issue now with our Air and Sea Show promoter who’s sending us some worrying signals. Hopefully we can address it and he can fix our concerns and put on a great concert but the issue becomes what if we all grow uncomfortable and he can’t?”
 
Arriola offered up the potential of finding backup acts including artist C Lo Green who has expressed interest. “We don’t have any signed contracts with any of the artists that have been put forward yet despite our asking that the contracts be signed," he said. “So we have to decide to what extent we’re gonna cut bait if for some reason he can’t procure these artists and then put the concert on ourselves and, I don’t know if it’s workable, but we need certainty real soon. We’ve already passed every deadline we’ve established for ourselves.”
 
Then he added, “I would be remiss if I don’t share with you a personal concern I have. We’re investing enormous amounts of money in the Air and Sea Show and this producer. He does a good job. We’re investing almost no money in local vendors and, more specifically, local minority vendors. I would ask this Commission to please consider when we’re asking for this additional money for marketing and for some of this programming, that money is going to partly be used to help employ, engage local vendors particularly for local minority local vendors to help us with this event."
 
Ruban Roberts, President of the Miami-Dade Branch of the NAACP and co-chair of the Blue Ribbon Panel, said, “We know that there have been some concerns about the weekend and we know that having activities and programs are very important in order to make sure that there’s a good distribution of the crowd.”
 
“I agree that the amount of money is large, but when I look at what the Blue Ribbon Panel was designed to address, what’s happening, the bulk of the money is not even going to address that issue,” Roberts told Commissioners. “So the bulk of the money is going to address the Air and Sea Show that I think is a wonderful event, but I think that we need to be mindful of some of the concerns that you all expressed about Memorial Day Weekend. And I think that the thing that we should do is that the dollars that are going to be invested, we need to look at the hours between 6 pm and beyond. The Air and Sea Show caters to a different audience. I strongly encourage you to fund those activities that will be happening in the afterhours so that we can have a spread out audience.”
 
“I think that you’re on the cusp. The City of Miami Beach is on the cusp of something great,” Roberts continued. “This is a world class city with tourists that come from all around the world from all ethnic backgrounds. In previous years there has been some stain on the City in terms of how they related to minorities. I think that this is a perfect opportunity to show that this City is welcoming to all people. I would love to see the optics of folks that are out there in the community, partying together, of all ethnic backgrounds and persuasions. I think that that’s something we can definitely enhance and expand the footprint.”
 
Then Roberts offered up a letter of intent from C Lo Green so that “tomorrow you can lock in your concert. I can’t say what the other promoter who’s had over six months to do this but we have right now a letter of intent … at a fraction of the cost of what the other promoter is asking for. I strongly urge, strongly encourage you to redirect those funds so that we can go ahead and lock this artist in.”
 
Roberts called Green “a crossover artist” that would appeal to those attending the Air and Sea Show as well as the visitors here for Memorial Day Weekend. “The artists that the promoter for the Air and Sea Show has identified do not resonate with the people from the Air and Sea Show nor do they resonate with the people who are coming to the Beach for Memorial Day Weekend so it’s a waste of $250,000 plus … so I’m just saying to you… use the investment wisely. Use the investment wisely. Let’s lock things down while we can. This is not the first deadline or second, third or fourth that was missed. We have something in hand. I was always told that a bird in the hand is better than two in the bushes.”
 
Aleman answered, “Here’s the problem with that. The only reason we’re doing the concert at all in my opinion is to keep the Air and Sea Show. So, if we take the concert away from the promoter, we won’t have an Air and Sea Show.”
 
“There’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen on this one,” she continued. Turning to Morales, she said, “I’m looking to you, Jimmy, as a City Manager to navigate through all this.”
 
“I think it’s very late,” Aleman continued. “There’s a lot of liability around a concert like this with the staging and the lighting. The Air and Sea Show itself has heavy security and protocol considerations that are not typical and not everyone understands. C Lo Green. Love him. Awesome. But that’s just not where we’re at. I’m going to put that in the category of beautiful idea, came way too late. The producer did a beautiful job with the Air and Sea Show last year so he’s not an unknown guy that we don’t know if he can pull this off.”
 
Arriola responded, “With this promoter, he has to get his act together and I don’t know if he’s been successful in negotiating and getting the artists to sign these contracts … I don’t know what the delay is. We’ve backstopped the money. I don’t know why he hasn’t gotten the contracts signed. That troubles me.”
 
Aleman said she didn’t want the Commissioners going back and forth on the details. “Jimmy, you’ve got to handle it,” she said again to Morales.
 
Commissioners then discussed a request by the Blue Ribbon Panel for $67,000 in marketing money for outreach to several markets including Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Los Angeles where attendees of Memorial Day Weekend traditionally travel from to Miami Beach.
 
City Communications Director Tonya Daniels said the money was proposed to notify attendees of “modified rules” for high impact weekends including beach restrictions. Arriola also wants banners and ads welcoming visitors. “We don’t spend a dime on marketing for Memorial Day Weekend,” he said. “It’s so unwelcoming.”
 
Aleman said people have already booked their travel so there’s no need to do a blanket marketing campaign. She said the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association “already agreed to help us, to direct message the rules to the people that are coming so we’re not shooting an ant with a shot gun.” Those direct messages she said could include the rules and a program of events.
 
Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez said, “I want to point out you don’t just have an event at the last minute because you have to program it and you have to market it and how are we going to do that? Are we going to be able to market it and get people here last minute? I think that’s our big challenge right now. We’ve waited too long.”
 
Gongora’s concerns were a little different. “Previously when we were on the Commission, there was always a Police plan. We always knew from the public safety perspective what the City was planning on this weekend. The way that this is starting to shape up in my mind is almost like there’s three separate events going on that weekend. There’s the Air and Sea Show, there’s the typical Memorial Day, and there’s now this new cultural programming. It seems like a more intense weekend.”
 
Arriola objected saying “The cultural programming is teeny tiny … poetry at the Betsy. If we have 20 people there that’s too many.”
 
“I would like to know what the public safety plan is for the weekend,” Gongora responded.
 
[RE:MiamiBeach reached out to Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates for his thoughts on the lack of a life safety plan for the Air and Sea Show and Concert. His response: “Memorial Day Weekend is our biggest special event of the year, and we are planning accordingly. We are preparing as if all the special events under consideration will occur. We will adjust our deployment as circumstances change and the need arises.”]
 
Steinberg suggested the Commission further review the weekend at its meeting usually reserved for awards later this month.
 
When Gelber returned to the marketing item and said it didn’t appear there was support for the funding, Arriola angrily responded, “It’s a disgrace because we have hundreds of thousands of African American tourists come here and we do very little to embrace them, to say thank you for coming. We do it for Gay Pride and Food and Wine and we can’t spend $67,000 in five national markets? Can’t advertise in five markets to say hey, welcome?”
 
Steinberg said, “I actually take offense to that because I’ve actually been very consistent, regardless of the weekend, so my vote is nothing tied to any specific situation. For me it’s high impact weekend.”
 
Commissioners then voted 4-3 to deny the funding with Arriola, Rosen Gonzalez, and Gelber voting yes.
 
When Arriola said, “Sorry to our guests that Miami Beach is not willing to say ‘hey, welcome to Miami Beach,” Aleman responded, “That’s not true. We’re going to say that within the existing $25k [for a program book] and the Hotel Association is going to help us directly.” At that, Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association President Wendy Kallergis shouted from the audience, “I don’t have any money.”
 
On Thursday, Arriola told Re:MiamiBeach, “Right now as Chair of the Blue Ribbon Panel, I am very concerned about the Air and Sea Show promoter’s ability to deliver a product. He has consistently missed deadlines that we have set for him and been evasive about specifics when asked.”
 
“The Blue Ribbon Panel has been working to provide some additional programming … for the tourists that are coming over Memorial Day Weekend,” he said. “The Commission has been very reluctant and unwilling to add additional programming. It’s refused to do any meaningful marketing for our tourists welcoming them and despite spending several million dollars on the weekend for police security and the Air and Sea Show promoter, we are not spending one dollar on minority vendors to participate in the weekend and I’m very disappointed.”
 
 * * * *

The Unity in the Community discussion will be held this Wednesday, April 18 at the Betsy Hotel. It begins at 6 pm.
 
Billed as a “candid conversation with the Miami Beach community around how to make Memorial Day Weekend better for residents and visitors alike”, the event is sponsored by the City of Miami Beach in partnership with the Miami-Dade branch of the NAACP.
 
Moderators will be Commissioner Ricky Arriola and NAACP Miami-Dade President Ruban Roberts.
 
Panelists include:
Betsy Hotel owner Jonathan Plutzik
Miami Beach Police Spokesperson Ernesto Rodriguez
Professor of African American History Tameeka Hobbs
Headliner Market Group CEO Mike Gardner
GMCVB Vice President of Multicultural Tourism & Development Connie Kinnard
Miami Beach resident Jeff Feldman
 
“We can only achieve greatness when we work together,” said Arriola. “Unity in the Community is a welcoming venue for everyone to share their thoughts on how we can build a better, stronger, and more just tomorrow.”
 
“This is the year of advocacy, the Me Too movement, Black Lives Matter and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas undertaking. It is important for all communities to find a way to connect with what unites us,” added NAACP Miami-Dade President Ruban Roberts. “This is why Unity in the Community is so very important. The NAACP and the City of Miami Beach are working together to build bridges and tear down walls.”


Photo: Shutterstock

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