Miami Beach May Make a Play for Ultra Music Festival

Ocean Drive

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Miami Beach May Make a Play for Ultra Music Festival:

Event being proposed as Spring Break Alternative

[Updated to include comments from Commissioner Arriola]

Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola wants the City to consider hosting the Ultra Music Festival next March as an alternative to Spring Break. Following two very difficult years, City officials, residents, and business leaders have begun talking about counter-programming the month of March after similar efforts have proven successful at changing the tone of Memorial Day Weekend here. Arriola has placed a discussion item on the agenda for next week’s Commission meeting to authorize discussions with Ultra’s organizers.

Ultra, which announced it was leaving the City of Miami after nearly two decades has been in discussions with Homestead about moving there but festival organizers indicated a willingness to talk with Miami Beach after being approached by community leaders.
In his memo to Commissioners, Arriola cited a Miami Beach United resolution urging counter-programming during high impact events. In its recommendation, the residents’ organization noted “the difference between Memorial Day weekend before the addition of the Air and Sea show, when visitors used to come down to a giant blank canvas that turned into a giant stretch of chaos, vs now, when visitors come and can choose to participate in a significant event based in and around the MXE. The city is not shut down, all are still welcome, and we still have an enormous influx of guests in town for the long weekend.” The MXE is the Entertainment District which includes Ocean Drive from 5th to 15th Streets.

Arriola wrote, “The month of March is one of the nicest months of the year. In my view, closing down the public beach, as it has been proposed, for the entire month of March would not only be unfeasible, but also disastrous to our small businesses and hotels. Inviting an established, well-organized event like Ultra for Spring Break 2020 will put heads in beds and serve as the counter-programming mechanism against the unorganized chaos that was Spring Break 2019 on Miami Beach.”
Arriola called it "serendipity that the same week that we’re discussing what to do about Spring Break that Ultra becomes a free agent. Ultra is a global brand and a marquee event and the fact that they’re even available as an option is very fortuitous so I thought it would be worth our while to engage with them to see if this is feasible."

"Ultra is an established corporate entity that we know brings an international clientele that stays in our hotels and spends money," he said. "They are well organized. We don’t have the violence and street parties that we’ve been experiencing with Spring Break. The Ultra crowd is older, non violent. They're not going to be partying in the streets with unorganized random street parties like we have during Spring Break."

"They're interested in having a conversation," Arriola said. "They're actively negotiating with another venue now so time is of the essense so we have to make up our mind very quickly…  Otherwise we don’t have a Plan B. Our Plan B right now is a $4 million expenditure from our police dept for around the clock police forces. It basically makes the month of March a police state on Miami Beach which is not going to help our economy and not going to make our residents happy. Ultra is something worth considering."

"Here is the perfet scenario and I think it can happen," he added. "Ultra has indicated the scenario where Ultra tickets would be sold as part of a bundle with hotel packages encouraging Ultra guests to stay on Miami Beach" which he said would address some of the traffic concerns residnts have.

That means festival attendees will stay on the Beach, go to the shows, and walk to get something to eat after. That "fills our hotels with Ultra festival guests and therefore pushes out any Spring Breakers that would normally come," Arriola said. "For folks that are not going to stay on Miami Beach, we would strongly encourage them not to drive and we would have staging areas across the Bay such as the Miami Herald site and others and they could take the metro mover and get shuttle services from the mainland to the venue. That’s very, very doable."

"We already have traffic during Spring Break," Arriola said. "That’s not going to go away. This might be a way to make it better."

Arriola added, the City was willing to host the Democratic National Convention which included "out of pocket expenses of $100 million plus risks of terrorism, civic unrest, protestors, and anarchists that normally are associated with political conventions. If that was palatable to the elected officials then Ultra should be a walk in the park because it brings none of that and we don’t have to pay for it and it's much safer and affects traffic flow much less than the DNC would."

Mike Palma, Chair of the Ocean Drive Association, told RE:MiamiBeach, “As much as I admire the new ordinances and the effort by the City [to fix high impact periods], I’m a big believer that unless you reprogram March with some type of events you’re going to inherit the same  problems and expense… loss of business, loss of revenue, expanded resources to upkeep Spring Break.”

“Ultra,” he said, “could be a potential solution to do many things for the City… to elevate the image… and demographics and revenue streams that we all want and need in our community.” The event has become “mainstream, it’s not just about young kids anymore.”
Palma noted the organizers are experienced and have a “good security plan.” While the festival is a weekend-long event, the necessary setup and break down time would give the City “the ability to shut down the beach areas we’re having issues with” during the month of March.
Ultra brings the “potential for 28,000 hotel rooms over a period of time and the resort revenues that come in” with those rooms, he said.
“At the end of the day, they pay the City,” Palma said. Instead of the projected $4 million in police expenditures for Miami Beach's Spring Break 2020, he said Miami Beach would benefit from the $2 million Ultra paid the City of Miami “on top of everything else.”
“It’s not a slam dunk,” Palma said. “It’s just an opportunity. I think it opens the conversation, if not that, then what? What is it we can do to improve the situation. I think everyone’s realized waiting for it to get better and spend a bunch of money is not working.”
Palma who has spoken with Ultra, has also met with Arriola and some of the other local hoteliers. He said Ultra indicated a willingness to slow down their negotiations with Homestead to take a look at Miami Beach if the City was willing to have the discussion.
He added, “I think Ultra would be willing to make some concessions, whether on total capacity, hours of operations… I think they realize the importance of having a great space, too. We don’t have to accept everything they bring to us.”
John Deutzman, co-founder of the Miami Beach Crime Prevention and Awareness Group, is another proponent. “When I heard Ultra was leaving Miami, there are some people that I’ve talked to that said 'Why can’t we grab this?'”
“I’ve been really strong that we need an idea to make sure that we have a big event that’s so big and so attractive that we displace the chaos and violence of Spring Break,” Deutzman said. “It’s actually the entire month of March which I call March madness. The whole month was a mess.”
“I’ve never been to Ultra. I just hear that it’s a much calmer event. There’s no violence associated with it,” Deutzman added. “There is a better situation for our businesses and hotels as far as the money potential goes and I think you would fill the hotels and airbnb’s with more desirable pricing.”
“If there’s no place for people to go for Spring Break because the rooms are booked, that’s the end of Spring Break. It’s a natural death for Spring Break,” he said.
“There’s going to be people upset about the noise but the sound of bass thumping is a lot more desirable than the sounds of gunshots or the sounds of skulls cracking against the sidewalk,” Deutzman said. “If someone has a better idea, please step forward but, right now, the City’s plan for Spring Break and March is we’re going to spend at least $4 million on police for an unknown event that we have totally underestimated and screwed up for the past two years.”
Arriola wants Commissioners to authorize City Manager Jimmy Morales to begin discussions with the festival's organizers “to determine the feasibility of hosting Ultra Music Festival 2020 at Lummus Park provided that an adequate public safety, transporation, and noise mitigation plan be provided.” The City Commission item will be up for discussion at Wednesday’s meeting following awards and presentations at 5 pm. If you’d like to send comments to Commissioners, you can find their email addresses here.

 Photo: Logan Fazio, Spring Break 2019

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