In a letter to the community this week, Gelber sought the support of City Commissioners but urged residents to act if the Commission won't. “I know that many will be opposed to some or all of these ideas. Many have already opposed them in previous incarnations. My hope is the last few weeks should galvanize our community into action, so I urge my Commission colleagues and City Staff to make these reforms our priority.”
“[C]hange will only happen if we work collectively toward this important goal,” Gelber wrote. “I would hope we could reach consensus on versions of these, but believe if we are unwilling to act, that our residents should put some of them on the November ballot via initiative if that is what it will take.”
If Commissioners cannot agree on legislative initiatives or to place an item on the ballot for voter approval, the City charter gives residents the power to add an item to the ballot. To do that requires a petition signed by ten percent of the City’s registered voters. According to Miami Beach City Clerk Rafael Granado, the benchmark for determining the number of signatures necessary is the number of registered voters as of November 5, 2019, the last General Election. That number was 48,364 so the number of valid signatures necessary would be 4,836.
Gelber said, “I don’t presume that these are all the ideas we should consider, but I firmly believe these are among the measures that must be considered if we are to make a real change.” He is encouraging his appointed Art Deco Cultural District committee “to forge ahead with dispatch” while asking the City Administration “to prepare a legislative package that reflects the issues” in his proposed plan.
What follows are details of the Mayor’s proposals and thoughts from some of the stakeholders. The complete description of his 12 points can be found here.
1. Liquor License Reform including a change in last call to 2 am
This is one Gelber indicates should be a ballot item, if necessary. There are 170 establishments citywide licensed to sell alcohol until 5 am. “All [that] does is project to the world that we are a place that embraces hard partying,” he notes. His proposal, which has already failed once with the Commission this year, is to have a 2 am last call in what has been known as the Entertainment District (MXE) “and a late-night nightclub license only for those establishments with sufficient security and stellar records of compliance (e.g. hotels).” To prevent migration into other areas of the City, he is open to extending the earlier last call to other commercial corridors.
Last year, Gelber proposed an Alcohol Control Board to regulate licenses but Commissioners were wary of creating a new Board, preferring the Planning Board take oversight. There did not appear to be a consensus regarding hours for last call at a Commission workshop in September.
Gelber has also suggested a “focus on policy and hours of operation for liquor stores and drug stores offering beer and wine. No single serve products should be permitted at retail. Sale of bottled liquor of any kind in the evening hours creates profound enforcement challenges.”
Regulation of alcohol sales can be a little tricky as regulation of sales is at the State level which does permit single serve products.
2. Elimination of noise exemptions, another potential ballot item, if necessary, Gelber notes.
Gelber previously proposed eliminating the exemption for eastward noise in the 900 to 1100 blocks of Ocean Drive but had to amend it to allow the exemption to remain in place from 7 am until 2 am. The area includes Mango’s, The Clevelander, and The Palace, all of which have opposed any change.
“Our police make the point that all the places in which we allow for excessive noise, mainly on parts of Ocean Drive, become a center of much of the challenging activity. There should be no exemptions for excessive, unreasonable or unnecessary noise from any source,” he wrote.
That includes certain rental vehicles, including mopeds, slingshots, and golf carts, he says, which “promote both dangerous driving behavior and are equipped with sound systems that are often as disruptive to our community as our stationary clubs. They also create meaningful police enforcement challenges. We must sharply reduce or eliminate their presence in our streets,” Gelber’s letter continued.
Here again, the City is challenged in its regulation of these vehicles due to state regulations.
3. Update our land regulations to encourage Live-Work-Play, and, if necessary, place on the ballot.
Coming back to the image projected to the world, he wrote, is the perception “that this area is only an entertainment district, even though it is home to a number of full-time residents.”
“The business model of this area needs to support other uses, including residential, office, wellness and tech uses” along with “upgraded hotels,” he says.
More residents puts “more eyes and ears on the ground” and would create an incentive for more daytime uses, he believes. “And while we need to keep our postcard, Ocean Drive, intact in every way, we should be exploring development models that give structures on Collins and Washington Avenue the ability to upgrade.” Gelber is again encouraging adoption of a City Staff proposal to incentivize connectivity with Ocean Drive via the Ocean Court alley to Collins Avenue similar to The Betsy Hotel.
"This same strategy is also applicable to Washington Avenue," he wrote, "as a better mix of uses would complement the area and allow for a more appropriate transition and connection to the Flamingo Park residential area. There is no doubt in my mind that we can do this and still preserve our historic architecture."
4. Heightened code of conduct for café operators, another potential ballot initiative.
The City has already taken steps to ban hawking but Gelber wants to add a ban on oversized drinks and hookah pipes. As the City provides the permits to operate sidewalk cafés on city-owned property, it has used the permits as a way to control behavior.
Gelber would like to not only hold café operators responsible, he wants to explore “policies to hold landlords of buildings with bad operators to account by establishing penalties for insufficient oversight."
5. Enhancement of policing
“Although we have increased the size of our force over the last few years, the need for more constant patrols requires a larger full-time force especially since it would be unfair to simply reposition police from other areas of the City,” Gelber wrote. The Mayor also believes the City should request more resources from Miami-Dade County given that “South Beach is a regional economic resource.”
In addition, he wants to renegotiate leases with the operators of the Marina and Smith & Wollenksy in the South of Fifth neighborhood “to include off-duty policing obligations as terms in the marina and park leases.” The current Marina lease expires in 2022 though it may be renewed up to 2052 under terms the City indicated were “unfavorable” leading up to the failed ballot initiative to upgrade the Marina and redevelop the Marina upland property. Smith & Wollensky’s lease expires in 2022.
Gelber also wants the City to consider amending its Code “to require off-duty policing as a remedial requirement for alcoholic beverage establishments with code violations involving crowd control and treat promoted events with an enhanced notice and off-duty police requirement and security plans.”
“Residential areas in South Beach need to be protected so police need to provide more park & walks and enhanced patrols, specifically in and around city parks and adjacent residential and commercial areas. Further, if communities adjacent to this area would like to raise funds to enhance policing, the City should help them to do so,” Gelber wrote.
6. Dedicated code enforcement unit for South Beach
“South Beach has unique challenges so we should designate a unit of code inspectors for only this area,” Gelber wrote. “They should know all the local proprietors so that they can make clear what the rules of the road are. Good businesses should never be caught flatfooted; they should know what to expect and precisely how to comply.”
7. Better preparation for high impact moments
“While curfews and causeway closures shouldn’t be the norm, we need to better inform and prepare the public when they are necessary,” Gelber wrote. He is proposing more notice for the public and businesses around high impact measures as well as “letting so-called Spring Breakers know what to expect through aggressive social media campaigns, and providing easier transit on the causeway through use of resident decals…”
8. Regulate the pesky toys that degrade quality of life
Gelber referred to scooters, slingshots, golf carts, and jet ski rentals in calling for regulation of “pesky toys” that have “infiltrated our community and challenged our quality of life and endangered their operators and other motorists and pedestrians.”
The Mayor noted the State pre-emption challenges for municipalities in creating regulations though the City has taken some steps within the parameters it has.
9. Increased technology deployment
Gelber wants to “continue to accelerate the deployment of cameras that have already been approved by the G.O. Bond, and completion of the Real Time Crime Center recently approved by the Commission.” Then, he wants to use social media “to deter visitors with bad intentions by letting them know that conduct is videotaped.”
10. Pedestrianization of Ocean Drive
Ocean Drive has been closed to vehicles since last year when the City expanded sidewalk café seating as part of a COVID economic recovery program for businesses and has been studying a permanent pedestrianization.
Gelber is proposing to “Make Ocean Drive a principally pedestrian promenade designed at grade, with convertible use for traffic as may be needed. This would be controlled by the installation of permanent, operable and decorative bollards at all side streets.”
Immediately, he wants to improve the signage and lighting which, he noted, was “approved by the Commission over a year ago and needs to be implemented now.”
11. Increased budget for year-round cultural festivals and sporting events
“We need to increase our cultural budget substantially so we can support cultural festivals programmed throughout the year (e.g. World-class art shows, Summer Classical & Jazz Music Festival, enhanced Art Deco Festival),” Gelber wrote. “Regular, modest and well curated activations consistently produced have the potential to favorably impact the conditions in our streets.”
12. Explore approaches to controlling transient lodger abuses
Here again, with regard to home-sharing platforms the City is limited in what it can do due to State pre-emption, but Gelber wants to explore “other approaches, including regulation of room capacity and requirements for on-site supervision.”
In an interview with RE:MiamiBeach, Gelber said the important thing about the plan is that it places the attention on “what we want this place to be. We’ve focused so much time on what we don’t want this place to be.”
“There has to be a vision that captures people, so they know what we’re trying to create,” he said. The 12 Point Plan, “lays out not just 12 ideas – it’s many more than 12 – but it’s a pretty comprehensive collection of almost anything that would have an impact.”
Asked if he’s frustrated about not getting traction with the Commission on his proposals from last year (and earlier), Gelber said, “Of course there’s a frustration. I felt like the changes [that have been made] have been baby steps at best and not part of an overall vision and I felt like this last month was so shocking that it was time to put this out there.” He said he’s been working on the issues, collecting ideas “for a while and trying to figure out how to do it.”
As to the timing and if this is a tipping point, he said, “Sometimes it’s a confluence of both having ideas but also the right time for the ideas.”
When a 2 am last call question was on the ballot in 2017, Miami Beach voters rejected it by an almost 2 to 1 margin. Gelber said what voters didn’t have was an understanding of how an early cut-off time was going to solve the issues in the Entertainment District. “The point we’re really trying to make, we’ve got to have a vision of what we want it to be and a mixed-use live, work, play area is what it needs to be.” That’s “not something the public’s accustomed to [hearing] about,” he said.
Creating that kind of environment needs incentives, he said. “I’ve asked different folks in the private sector and our city to sort of really think about what incentives work to not impair the architectural history of our community but still allow for incentives in the Collins Avenue area to attract the kind of boutique offices that would really change the feel of the place.”
“The mixed-use is incredibly important because if you just are restaurants and hotels or clubs, you end up with very little activation during the day and not a lot of people with eyes on there but, on the other hand, if you have residential and business and shopping all near one another, it becomes a different kind of place,” Gelber said. “You can still have entertainment, but you just can’t be only entertainment.”
“When you just have so many 5 am places you’re projecting out to the world who you are,” he said.
Regarding state pre-emption issues on the scooters and other “pesky toys” as he calls them, Gelber said there might be some options including making them subject to the City’s noise ordinances.
As the City heads into budget planning in May, Gelber said he does want to hear the recommendations from his Art Deco Cultural District panel. His plan, he said, is “not to circumvent them. I’d like to put more pressure [on them]. I’m impatient. More importantly, I think the public is.”
“There’s a lot of interest in the community right now,” he said. His open letter was to “give some of those folks an idea of what we’re talking about, so they can see and understand and be interested.”
Jonathan Plutzik chairs the Art Deco Cultural District committee appointed by Gelber. He also chairs the Ocean Drive Association and owns The Betsy Hotel.
Jonathan Plutzik, Owner The Betsy, Chair of the Mayor’s Art Deco Cultural District panel
Speaking for himself, he said he’s “generally supportive” of the Mayor’s plan.
“I’m of the view that we need to transform our community… there are good things to preserve and there are bad things that we need to change,” Plutzik told RE:MiamiBeach. “We need to elevate the code of conduct and demand of operators a level of performance that’s reflective of community standards. We need to reward good operators and we need to raise expectations for those who are operating in a less attractive way.”
On the 2 am alcohol cut-off, he said, “I think every issue he’s raised in his 12 Point Plan is worthy of conversation. Exactly how it’s applied, how you deal with indoor places versus outdoor places is a big question.”
Noise: “I think there’s a growing consensus outside ambient music standards are sort of community appropriate… how [his proposal is] implemented and ultimately defined, I think the community is going to talk about in the days and weeks ahead but, directionally, I think the issues the Mayor has raised are the perfect ones to raise.”
Development Incentives: Plutzik first renovated The Betsy Hotel, then constructed an orb which houses a walkway between The Betsy on Ocean Drive to an extension on Collins Avenue, later transforming the alley next to his properties into a lighted paseo with a restaurant and artistic elements. It is often used as an example of “good development” in the area.
“Let’s be clear,” he said. “Old buildings in need of substantial repair will never be repaired unless private capital comes to our neighborhood and invests in those buildings, so we have to find a way that’s neighborhood appropriate, that’s resident acceptable, to create a framework that gets that money coming to work. I don’t think anyone disagrees with the assertion that we cannot touch the architectural greatness of Ocean Drive, so the question is what you do on Collins that might favorably and appropriately impact development that might spill over to those Ocean Drive buildings in terms of preserving their architecture but upgrading the insides in ways that will attract better businesses and a more elevated American Riviera kind of future.”
Many of the ideas have been kicked around by various groups and previous blue ribbon panels on Ocean Drive without consensus. Asked how to get there now and if this time is different, Plutzik said, “How we get to a consensus is complicated.” Speaking of his role as Chair of the latest panel, he said, he’s “trying to have a very open, not filled with prejudgment about the answers conversation involving people of all kinds.” He pointed out that the 17-member committee includes ten who live in South Beach and four others who live in other areas of Miami Beach with only three from outside the City, “so it’s resident rich,” he said. Some are also involved in local businesses. “Getting to a consensus is not an uncomplicated thing, but it requires leadership and the Mayor’s leaned in and laid something out… in a way that begs people to comment about it.”
“We should also note that Miami Beach is at the moment maybe the best tourist destination and resident destination in the country… as a consequence of that, there’s a lot of people that have capital who want to bring it to bear here. I personally don’t think that’s a bad thing. I think it’s a good thing. The question is, how do we embrace those people? How do we create the framework for them to invest in the community in ways we can all reasonably agree is good for our future? That will take compromise on all sides. We can’t stand still.”
“We have to encourage all of us involved in the dialogue to have an open enough mind to find common ground that’s acceptable to everybody knowing that compromise is going to be inevitable,” Plutzik said.
Regarding the potential for voter referenda if the Commission can’t agree on what’s needed, he said, “I leave the politics to the politicians, but I will say I think everyone acknowledges this has been a crisis-filled month with the challenges of Spring Break and everyone acknowledging that that creates an opportunity for people to confront our issues. Standing still is not an option and so I’m hoping that that sense that we must go do something to actually improve the community means that we’re all going to have to lean in. We’re all going to have to compromise not about things that are fundamental to us but compromise in ways that help us find common ground and actually make progress so the Ocean Drive we see, the Art Deco Cultural District we see, the South Beach we see in five years is in very positive ways different than the one we see today.”
“Some of those things are likely to go to a vote,” he added.
The Clevelander, one of the businesses in the heart of the Entertainment District, sees things a bit differently. Attorney Alex Tachmes of Shutts and Bowen released a statement addressing the Mayor’s plan.
“The Clevelander strongly supports city proposals that are logical and focused on the actual problems at hand. Targeting businesses like ours that have, for decades, promoted fun, safe and inclusive entertainment is a terrible mistake,” it read.
Alcohol early last call: “Regarding the Mayor’s 12 Point Plan, we cannot support the rollback of alcohol hours to 2am as there is no evidence that a change in hours will improve public safety. Public safety issues spiraled last year and early this year at a time when businesses had either been subject to a midnight curfew or were altogether closed due to the pandemic. If crime has increased significantly despite a midnight curfew for the last year, what good will it do to have a 2am cutoff of alcohol? Moreover, it is worth remembering that Miami Beach voters soundly rejected a referendum to roll back liquor hours 65 percent to 35 percent only a few years ago. The public doesn’t support a rollback," the statement indicated.
“We also cannot support a plan that unfairly targets one small segment of the City for 2am closing hours, while hundreds of other restaurants and bars in Miami Beach will continue to remain open until 5am.”
Extra security and enforcement: “Five years ago, the City Commission approved a 10 Point Plan for Ocean Drive, with the first point being the provision of immediate security (combination of police and private security) on Ocean Drive with 2 officers stationed round the clock every 2 blocks. Sadly, 5 years later, we are still waiting for the dramatically increased police presence every day of the week on Ocean Drive (and not just during high impact periods).”
Programming: “One surprising omission from the Mayor’s Plan is the need for professional, coordinated programming on a county-wide basis in advance of high impact weekends. Countywide programming will ensure that crowds are spread throughout south Florida rather [than] congregating in one city," the statement said.
The Clevelander made news when it shut down operations temporarily over Spring Break safety concerns in March. In their announcement, they questioned the City’s ability “to maintain a safe environment in the surrounding area.” In reopening, the owners urged the City to increase programming “to make sure all visitors to Miami Beach have something to go to in a controlled environment, instead of simply congregating on the streets,” especially during high impact periods.
Development Incentives: On this point, The Clevelander gave a partial nod of approval.
“One aspect of the Mayor’s Plan we do support is incentivizing more of a live-work-play environment for MXE. However, turning one of the World’s best and most recognized entertainment destinations into a sleepy retiree community with galleries and yoga studios would be doing a great disservice to the brand of Miami Beach and an insult to the pioneering citizens and business leaders that have created such a world class destination.”
Philip Levine, who also tried to change the dynamics in the Entertainment District, said he agrees with and supports Gelber’s proposals and he had strong words for Commissioners who might “get wobbly knees.” If they can’t pass legislation to fix the issues, he said, there are “serious well-funded people in Miami Beach that want to support a referendum.”
Philip Levine, former Miami Beach Mayor
“I think if that has to happen it’s very unfortunate because what that says, basically, is that commissioners are not listening to the voters,” Levine told RE:MiamiBeach.
“It’s funny how people don’t learn, they don’t learn. Look what happened in 2016,” he said, with Donald Trump. “[He] was listening to people who were upset with certain situations and no one heard those people and he was elected. I think that’s a warning to all elected leaders ‘Listen to your residents.’”
“I think the Mayor has been trying time and time again to convince them and, once again, they get wobbly knees.” Levine quoted Margaret Thatcher who told an uncertain President H.W. Bush on the eve of Gulf War, ‘George this is no time to get wobbly knees.’ My advice to the Commissioners, ‘This is no time to get wobbly knees.’”
Regarding the 2 am last call referendum which was on the ballot during his last term in office, Levine said it was non-binding, there was no money spent to support it, and he spent “zero effort” on it “against two or three well-funded Ocean Drive bars." [Clarification: The 2017 referendum was binding. The 2016 straw poll was non-binding.]
Should there be another referendum, Levine said, “I will assist as asked. If I’m asked, I will be very happy to be involved. I think that there are a bunch of people that have come together and I will offer my assistance as needed.” Meanwhile, he said, “I’m also using my own personal persuasive powers, I hope, to convince [Commissioners] this is the right thing to do and I’m backing the Mayor.”
“Dan has been advocating this for a couple years now, at least,” Levine added. “What’s very unfortunate about the structure of the Miami Beach government is that the mayor position has all the public accountability without the authority. That’s a very difficult position for someone to be in because people look at you as the symbol of what’s going on and you agree with them, but you’re one of seven people with only one of the votes.”
“If he can’t get four votes and in some cases five, things won’t happen.”
“Part of this process is we’re going to have all eyes on the Commissioners to see who supports the Mayor and the residents and who doesn’t. Are they owned by Ocean Drive or are they owned by the residents of Miami Beach and this shall be the question,” Levine said.
Separate from Gelber’s proposal, Levine commissioned a poll recently of 300 Miami Beach voters that reflected views on public safety and crime in the South Beach Entertainment District. According to research firm McLaughlin & Associates, the survey group supported many of the ideas that Gelber has proposed:
By a 77% to 18% margin, voters approve of closing off Ocean Drive to vehicular traffic and making it pedestrian only, similar to Lincoln Road.
Seventy-two percent (72%) approve of limiting or regulating the volume of music from bars and clubs in the South Beach entertainment district. Just 22% disapprove.
Nearly seven in ten (68%) approve of incentivizing developers and property owners in the South Beach entertainment district to repurpose their building from bars and clubs to environmentally friendly office spaces and areas for cultural uses. Just 23% disapprove.
By a greater than two to one margin of 63% to 31%, voters approve of limiting and regulating the amount of party boats, charter boats and rental jet skis that can leave from Miami Beach.
Glendon Hall, economic development professional, Chair of the Miami Beach Black Affairs Advisory CommitteeThe City’s Black Affairs Advisory Committee (BAACP) is making both short- and long-term recommendations to the City for handling high-impact periods but also for making long-term change in the Entertainment District. Many of the recommendations tie into what Gelber has proposed.
For the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend (and future high impact periods), the Committee suggests placing restrictions on city-owned parking structures in the area to only allow residents and employees of local businesses to park and stepping up enforcement of parking in adjacent neighborhoods. He thinks this solution will “cut down on some of the day trippers,” helping to mitigate the over-capacity issues experienced during the height of the Spring Break period.
Committee Chair Glendon Hall said, “We want to emphasize, too, there’s no silver bullet to this.” He agrees with the sentiment that “We need a toolbox of things we can do. We have to have options.”
“Messaging is another big part of this,” Hall said noting a 2012 “Respect the Scene” marketing campaign the City conducted including influencers like basketball star Dwayne Wade. The message, “You can come down. You can party responsibly. Don’t let a small group of folks make it bad for everybody.”
With a campaign like that, Hall said, “You’re basically setting the tone” with a message that says “We want you here… but there’s a certain code of conduct you need to follow here and if you don’t, it’s going to be a problem.”
The BAAC also wants to see greater use of the Goodwill Ambassadors program for a positive interaction before police get involved.
Longer term programming: Hall is also in the camp of having programming throughout the City and County to spread the crowds out and he adds, “The County has to work with us. They can’t leave us to our own devices and only send cops” to supplement the City’s efforts.
On increased enforcement, Hall wants to see “hard core enforcement within the hotels. You can’t have 20 people within one hotel room.”
Investment and incentives: Hall, who went to high school in Fort Lauderdale, saw first hand what the City did to curb its Spring Break problem. “If Fort Lauderdale can do it… we can do it, but we have to make some hard choices.”
There, owners “wouldn’t redo hotels because they knew they were going to get wrecked” but, in addition to strict enforcement, once the City began investing in the streets and new infrastructure, he said, longer-term change happened.
During a forum sponsored by resident group Miami Beach United this past week, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis recounted what his city did in the 1980s to change the Spring Break dynamic, including implementing rules on room occupancy, cracking down on drinking and open containers in the streets, and deploying a heavy police presence that included officers mounted on horses. Development incentives brought higher-end hotels that meant "a lot of kids couldn’t afford to come based on the new room rates," Trantalis said.
"I’m not here to give anyone a lesson on how to accomplish something," Trantalis told the forum attendees, but he suggested "cutting back on the hours of operations [and] cutting back on the ease in which to drink on the beach," are important components of a strategy.
Hall, citing Fort Lauderdale and others, said, businesses “will follow the City’s direction, but the City has to show their investment, their long-term investment. They have to see that the change is long-term,” he said.
Zoning changes are prospective, meaning the existing business types the City has restricted in the Entertainment District such as tattoo parlors and package liquor stores are grandfathered in. Encouraging a “higher and better use for those properties” should be a priority, Hall said, suggesting one way to do that is to give building owners an incentive to let go of some of the low-end uses, through grants that would cover new buildout costs for a new tenant, as one example.
In the past, Hall said cities he’s worked with have marketed vacant spaces at the International Council of Shopping Centers conferences, emphasizing their plans to invest money in certain areas. “People will follow the money,” he said. Show them the investments you are making and what incentives you can provide them. “It has to be proactive. You have to engage the owners.”
Hall pointed to The Betsy as an example of how development incentives could transform the area. “The Betsy is our shining star there” with adaptive reuse and programming, he said. “They engaged a part of the area that used to be filled with trash and garbage," he said referring to the adjacent alley. "This is the kind of creative work that needs to be done.”
He commended architect Alan Shulman for his work, saying it’s important “having guys like him around because he gets it and he sees adaptive reuse but he does it in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the area. He understands the scale that we want… The Betsy is the right precedent that we should follow.”
The Betsy’s cultural programming, too, is an example Hall wants to see replicated. It’s done, he said, in a way that engages the entire community. For the City to create programming that transforms the area long-term, he said, “You can’t just have it for one year. You have to have multiple year commitments from the City.”
“If you promote it correctly and have a multi-year commitment, the right people will come and it will be sustainable,” Hall said, and you “dilute the crazy folks… [because] people are not going to take that crap.”
Hall said, in the end, making change is about “taking best practices… and applying it but you have to have political will and it has to be long-term. The change that happened in Fort Lauderdale wasn’t overnight. It took a commitment from the City to even go through some of the rough patches to make sure a change occurred and to make it permanent.”
Irene Bigger, who lives at 1500 Ocean Drive, has become a strong advocate for change in the Entertainment District. Bigger said she supports Gelber’s plan. “I like it overall.”
Irene Bigger, Ocean Drive resident
Her focus is primarily enforcement. “I think, in general, enforcement is key… We have good laws on the book, we just need to enforce them.”
Adding more police, however, is merely “a band aid,” she said. She agrees with Gelber’s mantra that “We cannot police our way out of this.”
“There are a lot of things we need to do so that the burden does not fall solely on the shoulders of the police.”
She supports the idea of having more shared resources from the County, “not just for their police but their Code Enforcement” and continued joint efforts with outside agencies patrolling the waterways.
2 am last call: “I am hearing from more and more residents that are talking about changing the hours of operation… I look at the 2 am as a compromise. I wouldn’t go as far as midnight. I don’t want to be punitive and punish residents or the businesses,” she said, emphasizing, “It’s enforcement. If we have issues with liquor and behavior, we should be doing more of the enforcing of the open container laws on the street.”
“You can’t control going into a package store and getting that one beer. The problem is not the one beer but the large liquor bottles and people just walking around with them,” she said, adding, “but I do believe that more people would be accepting of a 2 am [last call] now because it is a tipping point.”
Regarding development incentives, Bigger believes that proposal “falls under the whole diversification and repurposing of our community and our area” to not only change its character but to reduce the City’s reliance on tourism and hospitality after years of hurricanes, Zika, and now COVID.
“There is definitely more of a drive or an interest of a lot of residents here for more residential growth… and Class A office space.” Bigger lives in the residential building adjacent to the historic Bancroft Hotel and Ocean Steps commercial development that is being proposed for conversion to Class A office space with a membership component.
“I like the idea of the Class A office space,” she said, noting there are some sensitivities to rooftop noise that need to be addressed.
“We need to be more development friendly because we do need to look at restoration, renovation, and upgrading of a lot of these older buildings and hotels. It’s the only way we’re going to increase the quality of service.”
Acknowledging added height will be a concern, she said, “We need to define what height means.” Types of activations, noise, and hours of activation need to be worked out but, she added, “There are many good ways to do it.”
“For me, I think it comes down to changing the makeup, changing the landscape,” Bigger said. “If we’re asking ourselves who do we want to be, we need to change the landscape, and we need to get tougher on who we allow to do business in our area.” While not wanting to “blanket” all businesses, she said, “The hotels that jam people in, the restaurants that bait and switch to the vape shops that are drug dealing… the illegal activity. That’s not only hurting residents, it’s hurting visitors… it’s attracting an element that we don’t want, that no community should be subject to.”
Bigger agrees with the idea that building owners should be held accountable for their tenants and she supports attaching violations to the building owners. “It goes back to accountability. We all need to be good stewards of our community and it starts with our own space whether you’re a resident or commercial property owner or operators.” Some will take accountability “because they care, others because they have to,” she said.
Finally, she said, “Critics of the Mayor say they’ve heard this all before, but he is only one vote. For the 12 Point Plan to succeed, whether in its entirety or in part, the Commission will have to weigh in and make their positions known. Residents, too, will have to get involved in the process. If the plan fails, the failure will not be the Mayor’s alone.”
[Corrected to reflect the 2017 2 am last call referendum was binding. A non-binding straw poll was conducted in 2016. An earlier version of this story indicated the 2017 referendum was non-binding.]