Mayor Names New Panel on Ocean Drive

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Mayor Names New Panel on Ocean Drive:

Group will make recommendations for improving the ocean drive experience

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber this week appointed a new panel on Ocean Drive, the second such initiative in the past four years. Following his election last November, Gelber promised to name the panel to address issues impacting the iconic street. In the same election, voters rejected a proposal to roll back closing times at outdoor cafés on Ocean Drive from 5 am to 2 am. At his first Commission meeting, Gelber told Commissioners and the audience, “I don’t want Ocean Drive to feel that we’ve forgotten about the issues that exist there and I certainly don’t want members of the public to think that we’re overlooking that.”
 
The goal for the Panel, he said, would be “to give us some usable ideas that are not from ten years ago or three years but for the future and I’d like it to be incredibly collaborative because I think a lot of people want to address this.”
 
Now, almost a year later, he named the group. It will be chaired by Commissioner Ricky Arriola who also was a member of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Drive established by Mayor Philip Levine. Commissioner Mark Samuelian was also named as a member of the new Panel. 
 
Officially, the announcement states, “The purpose of the Panel is to study and make recommendations as to how to improve the experience for residents and visitors on Ocean Drive, between 5th and 15th Streets.” There can be up to 17 members, each serving for a term of no more than one year. The Panel will be divided into two subcommittees, Business and Culture Practices and Security, Safety, and Infrastructure.
 
They are expected to make “ongoing recommendations” and issue a final written report to the Mayor and City Commission by October 31, 2019.
 
Arriola told RE:MiamiBeach that, in addition to “some new players” involved with this Panel, “I think the environment is somewhat different. I think we’ve made some progress along Ocean Drive, closed some bad operators or revoked their café permits. I think that’s positive.” 
 
With next week’s election and the General Obligation Bond ballot questions, he said, the City will know “if we have money to make improvements to Lummus Park and Ocean Drive. That will be a major undertaking. We’ve talked about activating Lummus Park, something we weren’t doing a year or two ago. The Ocean Drive BID [Business Improvement District] is a new result and that actually flows from the Blue Ribbon Panel that Mayor Levine put together. So, we’re picking up some of the same threads from the last Blue Ribbon Panel.”

In addition to “new opinions," Arriola said, "Hopefully with the G.O. Bond passing, we’ll have some real resources to do some changes on Ocean Drive. Part of the Public Safety Bond will have enhanced security cameras and LPRs [License Plate Readers] making it safer.”
 
“The other thing that I hope we seriously consider is potentially making Ocean Drive a one-way street and that is something that many people have expressed interest in.” One-way traffic, he said, addresses concerns that hotels have had about suggestions to close it off completely to vehicle traffic, while making it better for police patrols because it “gets rid of some of the partying and tailgating that goes on on Ocean Drive.”
 
The G.O. Bond also contains projects that would make Ocean Drive more pedestrian friendly, Arriola noted.  “It could really change Ocean Drive significantly if the G.O. Bond passes and the Convention Center hotel passes bringing in a different class of tourist to our city and that will also help Ocean Drive.”
 
“We will need the business community to clean up their act as well and we’re hoping that the BID will help in that regard,” Arriola said. A Business Improvement District would raise funds from businesses within the District which could be used to pay for items such as additional security and an executive director to ensure businesses comply with City Code and marketing.
 
“There is still too much crime on Ocean Drive and that needs to be addressed,” he said. “The other thing is there’s also just a raucous atmosphere on Ocean Drive” which he said “doesn’t put our city in the best light.”
 
He would like to see a different tourist base come to Ocean Drive, a change “from the anything goes party [crowd] to a more sophisticated tourist market.” And he wants to “bring back our residents.” He wants them to “have meals there, walk with their friends, shop and make it something that removes a lot of the embarrassing pictures and videos that we’ve seen over the years which aren’t really criminal behavior per se but, all of the people dancing on cars and just the rowdiness, is not really the Miami Beach that I think we are trying to represent to the world.”
 
Can it be done? “I’m always optimistic, so yes,” Arriola said. “I’m eager to work with this group. It’s a brand new group. We’ll get some fresh ideas and we’ll see what happens. I’m very hopeful that the G.O. Bond passes – all three of them – and I’m hopeful the Convention Center hotel passes and that will bode well for Ocean Drive.”
 
Mark Samuelian, the other Commissioner named to the group, has spent a lot of time focusing on Ocean Drive since his election along with Gelber. “I’m really excited about what we’re doing on Ocean Drive and where we’re heading and I think this Panel is going to be a very important contributor. I think it’s fair to say that what we want to do is really enhance the overall experience and environment on Ocean Drive.”
 
Samuelian also cited progress including the adoption of his menu ordinance requiring disclosure of restaurant meal and drink pricing prominently displayed. “That has really, I think, begun to elevate the game of some of the operators. Some of the operators with problems with customer service are no longer operating or are not operating with sidewalk cafés,” he said.
 
He also noted the off-duty police program operated in conjunction with the Ocean Drive businesses for a pilot period, the recent noise ordinances sponsored by Gelber, and the plans for the Business Improvement District.
 
“All those things are steps in the right direction,” Samuelian said, “but I still think we have more to do.” The new panelists, he said, will consider ideas that have been considered before as well as “some new ideas about how do we take Ocean Drive and bring it back to its glory,” a place where tourists have a good experience and that residents want to frequent.
 
Like Arriola, he noted the potential of the G.O. Bond to infuse significant investment into the area to upgrade the infrastructure and improve public safety.
 
“I think Ocean Drive really is the heart of Miami Beach in a lot of ways. It’s certainly the place that’s recognized, that a lot of people come to. I recognize the importance of it.” That said, Samuelian added, “I was not comfortable with the experiences that certain customers were having. I saw it with my own eyes and ears. I heard it. And I saw it online and I was not comfortable… We have a lot of good operators on Ocean Drive but I think it’s fair to say we had some bad apples.”
 
“I’m proud of what we’ve done in the last twelve months [to improve things],” he said. “I’m excited about the potential and I’m honored the Mayor chose Commissioner Arriola and me. I’m looking forward to rolling up our sleeves and working with the community.”
 
The Panel members are:
  1. Commissioner Ricky Arriola, Chair
  2. Commissioner Mark Samuelian
  3. David Castillo
  4. Frank Amadeo
  5. John Deutzman
  6. Jeff Feldman
  7. Jon Freidin
  8. Britta Hanson
  9. Ricardo Dopico
  10. Jo Manning
  11. Jen Roberts
  12. Jerry Schwartz
  13. Bruce Bennett
  14. Dawn McCall
  15. Jonathan Plutzik
 
The Business and Culture Practices Subcommittee will be chaired by Jonathan Plutzik. The other members are Arriola, Castillo, Amadeo, Hanson, Roberts, and McCall
 
The Security, Safety, and Infrastructure Subcommittee will be chaired by Jon Freidin. The other members are Samuelian, Feldman, Deutzman, Manning, Schwartz, Dopico, and Bennett.
 
The last Blue Ribbon Panel came up with a list of recommendations that Arriola boiled down to a Ten Point Plan “to reinvigorate the area and make it a safer, more welcoming environment.” It included additional police officers and enhanced lighting, moving tables and umbrellas to the west part of the sidewalk next to buildings to ensure a more open pathway and removing the “gauntlet”, mitigation of noise from speakers, increased penalties for “hawking” or “aggressive solicitation” by bar and restaurant personnel, a ban on street vendors and promoters, and establishment of a Business Improvement District to raise funds to pay for items such as additional security and sanitation personnel, an executive director to ensure businesses comply with City Code, and marketing.
 
 
Photo: Shutterstock.com

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