Miami Beach Pop Event Gets Conceptual Approval

Ocean Drive

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Miami Beach Pop Event Gets Conceptual Approval:

November 8-9-10, 2019 is target date

Persistence paid off for the organizers of Miami Beach Pop, a three-day festival that is projected to attract 30-35,000 attendees per day with the potential for a multi-million-dollar economic impact on a typically slow high season weekend. After nearly a year and a half of testing the waters, searching for a date that did not add to the stress of other high impact weekends and alleviating concerns about their own impact, this week City Commissioners gave conceptual approval for an event on Veterans Day Weekend 2019. 
It’s not a done deal. The go ahead simply means producers can begin the special events permitting process where the details of the police, fire, traffic, and sanitation plans will be scrutinized. That said, Co-producer and Miami Beach resident Donald Lockerbie told Commissioners that given the extensive work that has been done to get to this point, “We’re probably at 85 or 95% of planning” and ready to get into the details of the permitting process.
The team is highly experienced with large-scale events and music festivals and were the producers of Miami Beach’s Centennial Celebration for which they had only seven months of planning time with none of the pre-production work that has been completed for the music festival. 
This event, proposed on the sand between 5th and 10th Streets, will be family-friendly and targeted toward an affluent audience, Lockerbie said. “This is not some event where anything will go.”
The plan now being presented takes into account community and City Staff feedback. “We’ve been good listeners,” Lockerbie told Commissioners. “We’ve been good listeners and we understand that you’re looking for artists to be diverse. We can’t mention them right now because we don’t have a date to finalize their bookings. But I can tell you we’re looking at legends in music and family shows.” In addition, he said, producers have reduced the proposed amount of show time by 12 or 13% in response to concerns raised. 
“We’ve been security sensitive,” he said. “We understand the issues the City has faced with other events.”
The group is committed to a sustainability program, he said. “We will clean up the beach better than we found it.” He also committed to festival eco-zones and added, “We’ll be pro solar and anti-plastic.”

Lockerbie also touted the economic benefits, which won over at least one Commissioner given the City’s budget issues. Studies done by the organizers point to November as “the least revenue generating month of the winter season here,” he said. Citing monthly tax revenues from November through April, he said while some months revenue is “10 or 11 million, November does around 5 or 6 million. We actually can create a spark to your revenue. We’re looking at helping in an otherwise low price point hotel period.”
In terms of overall economic impact, Lockerbie said, “In our first year, our experts predict that we could be in the 20 maybe the $20 to $30 million range,” a comparable impact to the South Beach Food and Wine Festival. The potential, he said, is much larger than that with “economic impact of $80 to $300 million for some of the great concerts that are annual.”
Miami Beach Pop CEO Steve Sybesma added that based on other city festivals, the producers estimate the festival will fill a “minimum 10,000 room nights.”
“We also know that if we’re not sensational and significant in this city, we’ll never be before you again,” Lockerbie said. “We have to do a great job this first year.”
Not everyone was convinced. Mayor Dan Gelber said, “I’m not enthused with another huge event.” Gelber is still smarting from having to close the MacArthur Causeway after the City reached capacity when St. Patrick’s Day revelers came to the Beach during a high-impact Spring Break weekend.

Co-producer Paul Peck emphasized the target audience is “affluent, non-transient visitors” who will spend “3-4-5 nights” on Miami Beach as well as local residents. The vision, he said, is an “international event, family friendly, with a strong programming aesthetic.” Discounts will be provided for residents.
Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez said, “I’m willing to embrace it for a few reasons. Number one, we do need healthy, family-based programming for high net worth individuals to come frequent the City, especially in the South Beach area, so I’m willing to embrace that. And second, you guys, you stuck with it! I mean you’ve been—not only to arrive this morning at 8:30 and sit here all day—but we’ve been going back and forth with this concert for how long now? A year and a half. So, I would be willing to embrace this for one year.” [Commissioners did not get to this agenda until 7:30 pm.]
The fact that it was listed as an update on the calendar concerned Commissioner Micky Steinberg. That and the fact that she expected the “highly regard event producers” to create a successful event. “It will be a success, so that’s an issue. Were it a success what does that actually look like?” she asked. “I have reservations… I just don’t know that I’m ready to say ‘Go’ today.”
Gelber said now that a date is being settled on, he wanted another month to review it and give time for additional public feedback and do his “due diligence” to ensure the event would be more of Wine and Food Festival event and not a repeat of St. Patrick’s Day/Spring Break.
Lockerbie reminded Commissioners the Centennial concert which attracted 25,000 attendees was “in the middle of spring break on March 26 on the beach. We had to build in the middle of Spring Break. We’ve done that before and we didn’t have to close down any causeways.”
Commissioner John Alemán said, “I’m okay to try things… provided that if we’re not happy, that’s it. We’re not signing some multi-year commitment. We’re pretty good at this in Miami Beach… Our City Manager and our Tourism and Culture Department will facilitate with fire and police to work out all of those details. We know how to do that.”
“Are we willing to give it a try and see if these world class producers can bring us an event that we hold in the same regard as Art Basel or the South Beach Wine and Food Fest?” she asked. “We know them. They’ve been here doing events. We know they can pull it off. I’m willing to give it a try on this weekend.” 
Given the late hour, Commissioner Ricky Arriola said, “To save time, I’m in.”
Commissioner Michael Góngora said, “I’m interested for a number of reasons.” Pointing out that “There’s a lot of money that goes into the startup. Not a lot of money gets made in year one, marketing, branding, convincing people to come.” The agreement he said would be “cancellable by us at any time so if you do a bad event in year one, I assume you’re going to lose money.”
“You’ve worked with all of these different communities to try to make this work,” he said. “I’m not sure what’s going to change between now and next month. I think we either just need to decide whether we’re willing to give this a try or not.”
Given the budget shortfalls, he added, “We don’t want to raise any fees for our residents and we’re desperately looking for other ways to raise revenue so we don’t pass those hits onto our residents and I think you’re probably something that would help. You’d help fill hotels. You’d help bring in more resort taxes. We’re not going to give you any waivers. We’re going to charge you for everything you do here so I think it probably is something that would have a good budgetary impact so I’m inclined to give it a try.”
Gelber told the organizers it appeared they had 4 votes but reiterated concerns about public input. Commissioner Mark Samuelian agreed that he might like another month.
Lockerbie responded that the April 11th Commission agenda item on the event was a public hearing where people “made their case,” followed by “two town halls,” and many meetings with City Staff and the service departments. 
“14 months [of lead time] may seem like a long time,” Lockerbie said. “13 months, it just gets harder.” This process, he said, has required far more pre-planning and he felt confident in what they had put in place so far to alleviate concerns.
Gelber said it appeared there were “4 yeses, two hemming and hawing, and one no. The vote will probably be 4-3 but it’s not like anyone is saying this is a horrible idea,” saying he had  “soft concerns.”
“I’m trying not to be unalterably opposed,” he said. “I understand there’s merits to this and I’m not afraid of it. I’m just a little concerned that since, I know what’s going to happen if we vote on it, we may be getting calls from a bunch of folks saying I had no idea you were voting on it and that I don’t think is an illegitimate concern. I’m sort of torn anyway.”
City Attorney Raul Aguila explained the special events permitting process. “Even if you conceptually authorize them to go through the permitting process, they still need to obtain input and approval from the affected stakeholders so that would be part of the actual permitting process.”
It’s a “conceptual greenlight” to begin the permitting process, Aguila told the organizers. “That would not be a guarantee of approval… that requires among other things community input.”
Assistant City Manager Kathie Brooks said the permitting process requires “a series of meetings where we notify the community.”
Lockerbie said the team has met with neighborhood associations but “Almost every time we meet… they say, ‘We’re for it but we don’t want to meet with you until you’ve been given the approval.’ We need the approval so we can get into the weeds on the planning.” Otherwise, he said, all they have are “fancy books and pictures.” The associations have said, “When the Commission tells you you are in the permitting process, then we’ll sit down and work through it,” Lockerbie said.
Arriola asked Lockerbie if they were comfortable with a 4-3 vote or if they wanted to come back when it might be 6-1. Lockerbie said the team was comfortable now. Arriola then reminded his colleagues that the Art Basel vote “was very contentious.”
“Art Basel was a 4-3 vote so you’re in good company. I would make a motion that we move forward.”
Arriola, Alemán, Góngora, and Rosen Gonzalez voted in favor. Gelber, Samuelian, and Steinberg voted no.
After the vote, Sybesma said, “We are pleased to receive the support of the Commission for Miami Beach Pop following more than a year of discussions and planning. We are excited to build on the success of our team with the iconic 2015 Miami Beach Centennial Celebration and roll-up our sleeves to produce a world-class, family-friendly event that celebrates the unique culture of Miami Beach.”

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