City law currently allows the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages on private property at alcoholic beverage establishments located on Ocean Drive from 5th to 15th Streets from 8:00 am until 5:00 am the following day. Shall an ordinance be adopted changing this current 5:00 am termination time to 2:00 am, exempting from this time change those indoor portions of alcoholic beverage establishments that are completely enclosed and located entirely within hotels?
First, Police Chief Dan Oates provided an overview of the police presence on the iconic street, acknowledging that “Ocean Drive’s challenges are unique and special.” Since he came onboard three years ago, Oates said, “There is a significant difference in the footprint of police on Ocean Drive.” There are now dedicated assets including 17 positions – 12 in the Entertainment District – and a new police area command.
“We are as invested as we can be and doing the best we can to keep Ocean Drive safe,” he said. Crime – Citywide and on Ocean Drive – is down, contrary to “myths out there,” he noted.
Oates described one of the challenges police face as the “revolving door of justice” in which many criminals are placed back on the streets immediately after arrest. However, thanks to the efforts of local citizens challenging the light sentences, there has been an impact on jail time.
While Oates said he does not weigh in on policy issues, he told the audience, “The [Miami Beach] brand includes a percentage of people who come here – some of them to engage in reckless behavior. As long as that market is there, it will be very hard to keep it off Ocean Drive.”
Commissioner Ricky Arriola, sponsor of the 10 Point Plan for Ocean Drive said, “Ocean Drive is Miami Beach’s front door” known throughout the world. “When people think of Miami, they think of Ocean Drive.” But, he said, it has become “a source of concern and embarrassment.”
“It is an economic engine. Unfortunately, it has also become an engine of crime,” he said. He acknowledged, “We also have some iconic establishments and major brand. Whatever we do, we have to think of those businesses. We want to keep Ocean Drive as a tourist destination while retaining its historic character.” His “number one concern” with Ocean Drive, he said, is “crime and unruly behavior.”
Historic preservationist and former City Commissioner Nancy Liebman asked, “What changed it? It was a destination … It saved this City from going bankrupt” when it was reinvigorated in the 90s. Liebman, who currently serves on the Historic Preservation Board, answered her own question. “Little by little tackiness set in. The little classy cafés were adulterated. They became louder and louder. The snake charmers came. The trinket sellers came.”
Liebman has heard the concerns with regard to economic impact. “We aren’t here to just talk about economics. The economics worked when the place was fabulous and all of us went there.” She called the ballot question, “a line in the sand. It will be the first step in change.”
Mike Palma, Operating Partner for The Clevelander Hotel & Bar, said, “The most important thing the business community wants to get across is that public safety is paramount to us, too. There is nothing more important than to create a safe Beach.”
With regard to the economics of the ballot question, he said, “It does do something and it would be unethical of the City not to discuss it. There is a deficit that will have to be made up” by lost revenue to the City from early closures.
“What is more disturbing to me,” Palma said, “jobs will be lost. We employ 450 people. The day this goes into effect, 100 of them are going home.”
Given other areas of the City will still be open until 5 am, he expressed concerns over the “thousands of people going from the Entertainment District and taking them to a place that is not entertainment oriented” once the Ocean Drive outdoor cafés shut down at 2 am. Rather than reduce crime, he said, “Non-activity brings crime. I know people don’t want to hear this but this is not a silver bullet. There are other options instead of going for the jugular and shutting down the brand of Ocean Drive."
Wanda Mouzon, a Miami Beach resident who lives in the Flamingo Park neighborhood, also opposes the ballot question. “I like the vitality and I realize and acknowledge that vitality comes from the nightlife that is offered in this City and I think we need to be very careful about how we address this.”
“Will this solve the problem?” she asked. “What impact will it have on our main economic engine? We can’t not look at that."
When asked about the true impact of the measure when indoor establishments would still be able to serve until 5 am and if restricting outdoor sales only targeted certain businesses, Arriola said, “The thought is that trying to restrict the 2 am rollback to those types of businesses that are having a negative impact on our street” you can stop the party that “spills out onto the street and the park”.
Palma responded, “Plain and simple. This is targeting by the Commission. Targeting the two iconic businesses,” he said, referring to The Clevelander and Mango’s.
“This is not targeting,” Arriola said. Calling Palma and Mango’s owner David Wallack “for the most part good corporate citizens”, Arriola said not all 47 businesses on Ocean Drive run their businesses in the best interests of the City. “Because you can’t target, sometimes there’s collateral damage. We are trying to solve a real problem.”
Palma asked, “Is a 2 am closure going to fix crime? Not a single person has told me how. Ricky just said some businesses on Ocean Drive don’t behave and we’re all going to suffer and crime is going to remain the same.”
“Ocean Drive has deteriorated to a point a lot of residents are concerned,” Arriola said. Speaking of the improvements since the 10 Point Plan went into effect – the elimination of the “gauntlet” on the sidewalk, improved lighting, noise reduction, a code of conduct for operators – he said, “2 am is not a silver bullet, but it is one of the tools we have.”
He reiterated his support for the question but said, “We will reverse it if we see it has a positive impact. We’re not trying to put anybody out of businesses” but rather change the way business is conducted on the street. Eventually, he said, “We can get it back up and running with quality operators like The Clevelander.”
Palma said the 10 Point Plan was making positive change on the street and that the operators were in process of setting up a Business Improvement District (BID), a self-taxing mechanism in which each business would contribute $35,000 a month for improvements such as additional security. That is on hold he said. “We lost all momentum.”
One questioner asked why the issue was on the ballot. “Why didn’t you [the Commission] have the guts to do this?”
Arriola said, “I think this is going to be a close vote. It could go either way. Some Commissioners have a tough time making tough calls and kick the can down the road.”
When asked about the spillover effect of patrons leaving Ocean Drive at 2 am for other areas of the City, Liebman said, the proposal is “the best we had. I would have liked to have seen the entire MXE [Entertainment District] included, specifically out to Collins and Washington.”
Arriola said there had been consideration given to rolling back sale hours to 2 am in the entire MXE with an application process for a 5 am license. Under that scenario, all businesses with later closing times would come under the City’s purview through the Conditional Use Process. (Currently only 5 of the 47 businesses are but the Planning Board is getting more aggressive in seeking input on all of them.)
Palma noted the clubs on Washington Avenue are closed. He said the owners are renting them out one night a week to operators who are not vested in the local community, while this measure would close down two businesses that are prepared to handle the crowds and “do take care of Ocean Drive”.
Arriola’s perspective is that “Some [people] won’t bother coming here at all.” Others, he said, will go home when the crowds disperse, but the City will keep a close eye on the impact of an early closing on other neighborhoods, if the measure passes. In general, he said, he thinks it’s “bad public policy for Miami Beach” to fully close the MXE district at 2 am.
As to the economic impact, he said the City needs to “diversify beyond a party scene” into arts and culture “to attract more cultural tourism than people who just want to come for spring break”.
City of Miami Beach economic analysis
Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association Analysis