Key Components of Mayor’s Plan to Overhaul Miami Beach’s Entertainment District Approved

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Key Components of Mayor’s Plan to Overhaul Miami Beach’s Entertainment District Approved:

Noise will be curtailed, tougher penalties coming for violating sidewalk café code of conduct

Miami Beach Commissioners voted to turn down the noise at 2 am in the two blocks of Ocean Drive known as the Cabaret District, home to the Clevelander, Mango’s, Palace, and Ocean’s Ten. For years, the blocks between 9th and 11th Streets have been exempt from the City’s prohibition on “unnecessary and excessive noises” to the east. They still have had to abide by noise regulations to the north, south, and west, but have been allowed to blast music into Lummus Park to the east which contains no residences or hotels.

As part of his plan to overhaul the City's Entertainment District and get rid of what he calls an “anything goes” attitude, Mayor Dan Gelber proposed repealing the noise exemption, a proposal the businesses said would cause the many visitors who come from all over the world to the iconic entertainment venues to go somewhere else.

Enough Commissioners agreed forcing Gelber to amend the proposal last month to allow the exemption from 7 am to 2 am only, meaning the businesses have to turn down the volume at 2. That proposal passed 6-1. It was a second reading so the approval means it will go into effect ten days after its passage on January 13.

Commissioners also voted on first reading to toughen the penalties for violating the City’s Sidewalk Café Code of Conduct which includes prohibitions on practices such as “hawking” to entice customers to eat or drink at an establishment, deceptive business practices such as unclear “menu specials”, and violation of the noise ordinance. The legislation was first voted on in December, but since then it was strengthened further, making it a little easier to revoke a permit for repeat violations.

In a memo accompanying the noise item, Interim City Manager Raul Aguila wrote, “The purpose of this amendment to chapter 46 is to further reduce negative impacts of noise along Ocean Drive. Additionally, the amendment is intended to re-direct the activities of alcoholic beverage establishments to be substantially contained within private property and not spill onto the public street and sidewalks. This, in turn, will allow for a better activation of the street, as well as safe, unencumbered movement.”

Daniel Ciraldo, Executive Director of the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) said the organization which operates the Art Deco Welcome Center for the City and maintains offices in the middle of the Cabaret District at 10th and Ocean was in support of the ordinance. With the pandemic, he said, the issue is about more than just noise. “Unfortunately, over the weekend there was another time when the music was playing quite loud in one of the establishments” which resulted in people standing in the middle of road, some taking masks off and talking loudly to be heard. The noise, he said, is “not only a quality of life issue, but now a public health issue.”

Mango’s owner David Wallack emphasized the lack of residential units to the east of the entertainment venues. “There is no resident that is disturbed in their homes by these businesses,” he said. Turning the music down at 2 am, he predicted, would cause people to stop coming to Ocean Drive at 11 pm and choosing to go elsewhere setting off a “very big depression… after the very big COVID depression.”

Recognizing the sentiment on the Commission to take some action, Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce President Jerry Libbin proposed a compromise – allowing loud music to run until 3 am on Friday and Saturday only.

Commissioner Ricky Arriola, the lone “no” vote on the change continued to emphasize his concern that throughout 2020 most of the establishments were closed so, therefore, were not the cause of any of the issues in the Entertainment District. “I’m willing to attempt anything to get things under control,” he said, but added, “My frustration is we’re rearranging chairs on the Titanic [and spending] too much time on the noise issues and not enough time on rebranding the MXE area.” 

He urged the City to “spend a lot more time on bringing in the businesses we want to see.”

In his opinion, Commissioner Mark Samuelian said, “The risk is not doing enough… I don’t view this as a silver bullet but it’s part of the tool kit.”

Commissioner Michael Góngora told his colleagues he could get behind a 3 am proposal “because I’m in favor of taking baby steps but, at the end of the day, 3 am, 2 am, it’s not an earth-shattering difference.” Either way, he said, the change would be “another tool to improve the Ocean Drive experience for everybody.”

An amendment to allow the noise exemption through 3 am on Fridays and Saturdays only was placed on the floor by Commissioner David Richardson.

Gelber reminded Commissioners of Police Chief Rick Clements’ previous presentation to them showing that the Entertainment District (MXE) which includes Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue from 5th to 15th Streets and, specifically this two-block area, is “unquestionably the center of the most criminal activity in the City right now… If this Commission wants to incrementally change things so little, that’s fine, but don’t be surprised if nothing’s changed in the next century.”

He recalled comments from former Police Chief Dan Oates. “[He said] the moment we reduce the noise, it reduces the challenge of policing.”

Gelber emphasized it’s “long past the time” for “incremental change.”

“Nobody wants to offend operators that they like,” Gelber said. “They’re good businesses. They try very hard to be good corporate citizens, but we’ve got a problem in this area… We’re not going to [change] it incrementally.”

Richardson told Gelber, “You and I have very significant agreement on this, very significant," citing enforcement efforts but, he said, “We haven’t had a lot of good data points… We are taking what I consider to be a fairly assertive change when we don’t have data points right now.”

“All I’m saying is let’s not go so far on Friday and Saturday,” Richardson said. Calling it a “significant” change, he added, “I don’t see it as an incremental thing.” Go with 3 am on Fridays and Saturdays he said, “and if it doesn’t work… change it.”

Richardson, Góngora, and Arriola voted for the 3 am weekend limit but Gelber, Samuelian, Steven Meiner and Micky Steinberg voted against.

The Commission then voted to approve the exemption between 7 am and 2 am only.

Legacy Business Designation Established

Gelber’s proposed overhaul of the Entertainment District to an Art Deco Cultural District is a combination of “carrots and sticks.” One of the potential carrots is the establishment of a Legacy Business Designation which Commissioners voted this week to establish. Initially known as “heritage” businesses, the new designation does not yet have any rights or “privileges” attached to it such as possible exemptions from future regulations, but provides “simply the criteria for which we might assign rights or privileges,” Gelber said.

To qualify, a business would have to be a commercial entity, open to the public, "including but not limited to restaurants, drinking establishments, and retail uses." If an establishment has been in business for at least 25 years and is in good standing with no pending or active City Code violations, it would be eligible for nomination.

In addition to longevity, a legacy business would have to meet three of the following criteria:
  1. The establishment is unique to Miami Beach and the original location of the establishment was in Miami Beach.
  2. The establishment has a demonstrated record of promoting the City of Miami Beach in a positive manner.
  3. The establishment has significantly contributed to the history or identity of the City, or a neighborhood in the City.
  4. The establishment is committed to maintaining the unique physical features, services, arts, performances or traditions that define the business, including, but not limited to craft, culinary, or art forms.
The Administration cited San Francisco, North Miami, and San Antonio as examples of cities with legacy business designations.

Of the four businesses impacted by the noise ordinance change, the Palace, Mango’s, and Clevelander would all qualify for legacy designation as proposed given their longevity in the City. Ocean’s Ten would not be eligible now as it has only been around since 2003.

Sidewalk Café Penalties

In a memo accompanying the item to strengthen the penalties for Sidewalk Café Code of Conduct violations, Interim City Manager Raul Aguila wrote, “[A]s part of its periodic, continuous review of the Sidewalk Café Ordinance, the City Administration has determined that certain modifications to those penalty provisions [in City Code] are necessary due to the continued complaints pertaining to the business practices and conduct of sidewalk café operators, in conjunction with the number of violations issued to such operators by the City for behavior inconsistent with the City Code.”

Under the new penalty structure, following the first violation of the Sidewalk Café Code of Conduct within the preceding 12 months, the operator’s sidewalk café permit would be suspended for 24 hours “and, upon reopening, the sidewalk café shall cease all sidewalk café business operations at Midnight each day until the permittee submits an operational plan, which must be approved by the city manager, detailing how the violation(s) will be corrected.”

Upon the second violation within the preceding 12 months, the operator would receive a suspension of the sidewalk café permit for one weekend (Saturday and Sunday) and once reopened, would have to end all sidewalk café business operations at 10:00 pm each day until an operational plan detailing how any violation(s) will be corrected is submitted and approved by the City Manager.

Significantly, upon a third violation within the preceding 12 months, the business would have its sidewalk café permit revoked for the remaining portion of the permit year. Currently, revocation is not applied until the fourth offense.

A permittee who has been issued four or more violations within the preceding 12 months will not be allowed to apply for and obtain a new permit for two consecutive permit years following the permit year in which the most recent violation was incurred. 

Because the penalties were made stricter between first and second reading, the item had to be read again for the first time this week. Second reading is scheduled for end of this month. If passed, it would take effect ten days after the vote on January 27.

As he did in December, Commissioner Michael Góngora asked for a reasonable timeframe for City Manager review of an operational plan. It doesn’t require an inadequate plan be approved, he said, but rather give businesses an understanding of when they could expect a response to their plan.

A note to Aguila’s memo, “In the event that the Mayor and City Commission pass and adopt this Ordinance upon second reading, the City Administration would ‘reset’ all sidewalk café permittees' outstanding violations (and the ‘preceding 12 month’ enforcement period set forth in the Ordinance would commence anew beginning upon the effective date of the Ordinance), in order to provide all sidewalk café permittees the benefit and opportunity to implement any additional training, staffing or other modifications necessary to further ensure compliance with the provisions of the City Code pertaining to the operational standards, criteria and conditions for sidewalk cafés in the City.”

The full memo and ordinance are here.

South of Fifth Quality of Life Plan

After Gelber raised concerns about “seepage” from the Entertainment District into the South of Fifth residential neighborhood, Aguila is exploring the potential for a “quality of life” pilot program that would include a substation in the area to handle Police, Code, cleanliness and sanitation issues. Gelber said the City continues to emphasize enforcement but is floating ideas for ways to further localize the Police Department's utilization of Neighborhood Resource Officers in South, Mid, and North Beach in a smaller area while also including a Code and cleanliness/sanitation emphasis.

Among the concerns called out by Gelber, party boats dropping passengers off at the Miami Beach Marina “in an inebriated state creating all sorts of issues." Aguila noted the City is not waiting to set up the pilot program but rather is looking now at ways to address the “issues we are already aware of at the marina.”

Photo: Shutterstock

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