Preliminary Consensus on Some Concepts to Fix Miami Beach’s Ocean Drive

Ocean Drive , Washington Avenue , Collins Avenue

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Preliminary Consensus on Some Concepts to Fix Miami Beach’s Ocean Drive:

How to regulate alcohol still a controversial topic

While alcohol remains a controversial topic, a slate of other conceptual proposals for fixing Miami Beach’s Entertainment District seems to have at least preliminary support from many of the City’s elected leaders. At a recent workshop to discuss ideas first advanced by Mayor Dan Gelber, a vision of “what could be” generated lively discussion and debate.

Points of agreement: A once bright star has lost its luster with “out of control” and “anything goes” behavior. There’s a “race to the bottom” as a result of business practices employed by “bad operators” and the area feels unsafe for residents and visitors.

What’s causing the issues and how to fix them has confounded several recent Blue Ribbon panels and City Commissions. 

In July, Gelber decided the problem called for more drastic actions and he proposed the creation of an Art Deco Cultural District to change the area’s image. One of his proposals included placing new regulations on establishments serving alcoholic beverages, establishing an Alcohol Control Board and requiring businesses that serve alcohol after midnight abide by specific requirements or risk losing their ability to serve past that hour. He says his proposals are not an effort to shut businesses down but to better control them and elevate behavior.

When he made his initial proposals, Gelber challenged the City Administration to take a comprehensive look at ways to improve the district including incentives to encourage investment by high-end hotels and other businesses.

This month’s workshop was the first time the ideas were presented. No public comment was taken at the meeting but Gelber, City Staff, and Commissioner Mark Samuelian who chairs the Land Use and Sustainability Committee which hosted the workshop all emphasized each proposal would be vetted in various committees, some before the Planning Board, as well as at two Commission meetings, all of which would include public hearings.

What follows is the full RE:MiamiBeach treatment… a detailed look at the discussion and proposals.

Zyscovich Engaged to Conduct Study, Issue Recommendations

At the Commission meeting the day prior to the workshop, Commissioners approved hiring Zyscovich Architects to conduct a land use, mobility, and economic development study of the South Beach MXE District from Washington Avenue to Ocean Drive, 5th to 17th Streets including Collins Avenue and the interior side streets.

In a memo to Commissioners, City Manager Jimmy Morales said the study “would be the basis for more extensive projects within these independent corridors, specifically the voter-approved Ocean Drive and Washington Avenue GO Bond projects.” He also noted, “[T]he consultant will be instrumental in accomplishing the City Commission’s directives for the district.”

Some of Zyscovich’s notable urban planning and design projects include Brooklyn’s DUMBO Heights, Midtown Miami and Miami Beach’s Convention Center Redevelopment District. The company is headquartered in Miami.

The Zyscovich team “includes a world-class team of specialists,” according to Morales’ memo. “The roster of local and international expertise includes Gehl Architects (planning and urban design), Kittelson & Associates (transit and mobility), Lambert Advisory (economic development), Town Square Corp. (placemaking and branding), and Raymond Jungles (landscape).”

The contract is for $552,000. Details of the proposal can be found here.

 
The Breakwater and Ocean's Ten on Ocean Drive. Photo from Shutterstock.com
 

“An important moment”

Gelber kicked off the workshop urging a full discussion but also emphasizing the need for “decisive action” on a full package of changes. 

“I think it’s a pretty important moment for all of us,” the Mayor said. “I’ve lived in this city for 59 years and no question this particular area we’re talking about is the most interesting and beautiful, if not stunning place in the world,” he said, citing its architecture, weather, history, and green space.

While it has had it high points, Gelber said, “I think we have to come to an agreement that what is known as the Entertainment District just isn’t working for our city. Maybe it’s a victim of its own success, but it has felt like it’s just too difficult to manage.” 

Security has become too expensive and the area has become unsafe on a regular basis, he said. “It feels a little too much like Bourbon Street on the beach… It’s not really compatible with the art and culture destination that we have become in the last 10 or 20 years.”

Gelber ticked off the many efforts to fix the problem – adding police, eliminating the noise exemption, attempting to get rid of promoted parties, increased penalties for underage drinking, and a new Code of Conduct for operators that included penalties for hawking and deceptive business practices.  

“We tried to program our way out, but nothing has, I think, fundamentally changed the dynamic so we have to do something more than we’ve done. We need to change the essential nature of the district, not cosmetically but fundamentally,” he said.

“The purpose is not to diminish the area but to celebrate it and I think we have to come into this with, really, a belief that we can do something that works for our city’s identity, not necessarily with just sticks but also, more importantly, with carrots.”

“The purpose is to reestablish this district as what it can be, not what it is right now,” Gelber said. “There will most certainly be entertainment, but it won’t be an ‘anything goes’ destination. That’s the way I think of it.”

“I hope that nobody has a kneejerk reaction to anything that’s a big change.” Saying he’d already been lobbied by business owners, he emphasized, “I understand this is people’s livelihoods and why they would be so protective. I understand that, but I also know that we’re going to be thoughtful and informed. We’re not going to do something rash. We’re going to listen to everything.”

“I think at the end of the day, the purpose here is not to be punitive, but to figure out a way where all of the goals of a beautiful place and a special place can be met. I know we can do it,” he said, adding, “We need to be decisive once we pick a direction and we need to let people know what we want and how we’re going to get there. We’ll listen to them and we’ll inform our decision making with them, but these are going to be hard decisions. This is why people elect us.”

 
Spring Break 2019. Photo courtesy Logan Fazio


Safety and Security

Miami Beach Police Chief Richard Clements outlined a plan that went into effect mid-September putting more personnel on the street to increase visibility and better deal with issues in the MXE. 

The number of officers increased from 15 per day to 25-27 on weekdays, he said. On weekends, the number will average 35 per day. In addition, with a change of shift hours, between 10 pm and 2:30 am there will be “close to 30-35 officers on the street specifically within the [Art Deco Cultural District].”

Clements said the new staffing plan means officers will be “better able to address the challenges which often include the beach area,” where people “often sneak out onto the beach” from areas north and south. “We’re now able to designate the appropriate number of ATV officers out there making sure the beach is closed.”

Clements, who noted he was part of MBPD’s first bicycle unit, said the unit will be reintroduced along with the “park and walk” program which “got sidetracked” when the pandemic hit.  The park and walk program allows the Department “to connect with the community and really stress the community policing philosophy,” he said.

The Department is also recommending a training program for establishments that serve alcohol in the Entertainment District, particularly with regard to de-escalation techniques after situations “where we believe that security within the venue actually started a confrontation that ultimately ended up becoming a police matter," he said.

Clements said the Police Department supports requirements to have off-duty officers at each establishment that serves alcohol past midnight. Bars would be required to hire one officer, while clubs and dancehalls would be required to have a minimum of two off-duty officers though the number could increase based on occupancy levels. 

“The rationale behind that is this,” Clements said, “If there is something that happens, it takes away resources from the street” when officers have to respond to incidents at the venues.

Clements said he’s also looking forward to an increased number of cameras in the area. Currently there are 40. With GO Bond funds, the area will end up with nearly 100 cameras throughout Lummus Park, Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue, and Washington Avenue.

There was general agreement and enthusiasm for Clements’ proposals, but most agreed with Gelber’s sentiment that the City “can’t police our way out of this.”

 
Photo courtesy City of Miami Beach
 

Rebranding Initiative

Miami Beach Director of Marketing and Communications, Tonya Daniels, presented thoughts on rebranding the City which is “beginning to be known as an anything goes party atmosphere.” This is a good time, she suggested, to “step back and refresh and coordinate our brand.” She estimated it would cost $300,000 to $500,000 and 10 to 12 months to complete once a consultant is chosen. 

Commissioner Ricky Arriola urged quick action on the idea. “Our brand is impaired… COVID didn’t help,” he said. “We need help really quickly. I would move to engage the very best branding firm we can find. Half a million, $700,000, it’s peanuts compared to the return we get if we do this right.”

“If we don’t get [our economy] restarted,” he warned, “we’re going to be in hard times for a decade plus… We have to invest in our brand as soon as possible, get the very best business minds and brand leaders [together and] do it in the next 30 days and really start a turnaround plan, immediately… We gotta take action. We can’t do the normal government thing and study it, study it, study it.”

Commissioner Steven Meiner, who raised eyebrows earlier with his proposal for family-friendly programming that might include initiatives such as a Ferris wheel in Lummus Park, said he thinks the idea is right for this “unique moment in time” when “most of the stakeholders are demanding change. 

“We can’t just say we’re family friendly,” he said. “We actually have to be family friendly to capture the tourists and the residents.” Meiner wants to see “positive activation, 365 days a year” which could include the Ferris wheel, a carousel, cultural exhibits, and food. 

Though he said he’s “not wedded to the idea of a Ferris wheel,” he cited the London Eye as an example of a pilot program that started in 1999 and became “one of their major attractions” and is now permanent. He urged the City to “try different pilot programs. If they work great. If not, we move on to other ideas as well.”

By changing the area’s image, “We help everyone. We help our residents. We bring in tourists. We’ll help our businesses,” Meiner said. “It will deter crime because it will be heavily trafficked and these can be done in a very, very high-end way and, I think, fit in with the Mayor’s initiatives.”

Arriola, who has been ridiculed for some of his ideas, said, “I just wanted to commend my colleague, Commissioner Meiner for going out on a limb, coming up with something creative, out of the box, something that’s sure to grab attention and controversy and probably subject him to all kinds of not pleasant things sometimes… I commend you and I like the direction… Don’t give up on it. Family-friendly programming is part of the solution, part of the way out of this.” He used New York’s Time Square as an example of an area that “seemed irredeemable, full of every vice, lowlife you can imagine” before bringing in investment that started with Disney.

“That’s part of what I think we should be exploring, economic development,” Arriola continued. “We need to try to bring a real major player, real major actor to invest in the area to say ‘Look, we believe in Miami Beach, its future and this part of town’ and reposition just like the Faena District did further north. We need to try to find that catalytic investment to help us prove what we’re trying to accomplish here.”

 
Road closure and sidewalk café expansion on Ocean Drive during the coronavirus pandemic


Putting the Emphasis on Pedestrians and Bicycles

To further implement the City’s transportation plan which prioritizes pedestrians, bikes, and other transit ahead of vehicles and building on what’s been learned through programs piloted during COVID, the Transportation Department is recommending that Ocean Drive remain pedestrian and bikes-only while keeping the current configuration of restaurant expansions into the street.

“We believe that has brought a very positive environment to the area,” Assistant Transportation Director Josiel Ferrer told the Mayor and Commission. “We have received very good feedback from the community on that.”

Long-term recommendations for Ocean Drive include redesigning the street to a single elevation to allow restaurants to expand while keeping 20 feet on both sides of the restaurant expansion for emergency services.

For Washington Avenue, the Department recommends keeping the existing restaurant expansion into the street and what is now a temporary bike lane while integrating bus bays and transit platforms over the next year. Mid- to long-term initiatives for Washington Avenue include reducing the median to include dedicated transit lanes, bike lanes and on-street parking.

Ferrer said advancing GO Bond funds for Ocean Drive and Washington Avenue from later tranches into tranche two, “would allow the City to expedite this implementation.”

For Collins Avenue, recommendations include modifying delivery operations throughout the corridor through curb management in the short-term and providing garage parking to allow for future repurposing of on-street parking spaces for pedestrians and bikes, the expansion of sidewalks and sidewalk amenities as well as bike lanes.

There was general support for the initiatives. Arriola, Meiner, and Commissioner Mark Samuelian said they supported the full pedestrianization of Ocean Drive, something Gelber supports as well. Commissioners Michael Góngora and David Richardson said they were open to the idea.

 
Ocean Drive. Photo from Shutterstock.com
 

Alcohol and Noise Regulations

Planning Director Tom Mooney outlined what he called the “most expansive” of the zoning amendment proposals including rolling back closing time for existing package stores within the MXE from 8 pm to 5 pm and rolling back the closing time for the sale of alcoholic beverages in all alcoholic beverage establishments in the MXE “from the current 5 am to 12 midnight but contemporaneously with that we would be proposing that a new process be set up that would immediately allow all businesses to request an extension of those hours back to their previous closing time if it was 2, 3 or 5 am,” Mooney said. Permits for operating hours would be reviewed on a regular basis which could, for example, be annually.

The recommendations are to allow the City “to get a better handle and better operational control over a lot of the bad operators on Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue,” according to Mooney. “The way we approached it was rather than having a hard stop at 2 am or a hard stop at midnight, operating after midnight should be considered a privilege and not a right. Too often a lot of operators take advantage of that and it’s reflected in their operation.”

An Alcoholic Beverage and Operations Board was recommended to take action on new applications and regulate existing ones. It was envisioned with five members appointed by the City Manager and confirmed by the City Commission, Mooney said. 
 
The other major proposed change, he said, would be to remove the current noise exemption for properties between 9th and 11th Streets on Ocean Drive. “Currently, the properties to the immediate north and south of those blocks are going to need to compensate [for the noise on the adjacent blocks] and it becomes sort of a domino effect. This way everybody’s playing by the same rules,” Mooney explained.

“The overarching goal of these regulations is not to put businesses out of business but to get them to rethink their business model and basically take the party from the sidewalk and the street and place it back within the property,” he added. “By removing the noise exemption we believe that that’s going to facilitate a more uniform area of behavior and when you couple that with the proposals on pedestrianizing Ocean Drive and creating the seating zones in the middle of the street, it will create a much better active pedestrian environment as well as allow for a much better transition into Lummus Park.”

Another recommendation is a future prohibition on standalone bars. Mooney said there are only two standalone bars now in the MXE district and they would be grandfathered in, but future standalone bars would be prohibited, if the recommendation were to be approved.

 
The orb connecting The Betsy on Ocean Drive with an extension on Collins Avenue
 

Development Incentives to Encourage High-End Development

Mooney said the Administration also "looked holistically" at medium- and long-term zoning amendments and medium- and long-term zoning incentives that would be “worthwhile” to improve the district.

Proposals include studying the possibility of allowing multi-story rooftop additions on Collins Avenue. “We think this could encourage connections to properties across the alley on Ocean Drive allowing for drop-off, pickup, and delivery to occur on Collins Avenue and taking a lot of that pressure off of Ocean Drive

Another recommendation would be to eliminate parking requirements in the area. “Currently there’s only a parking requirement for new construction,” Mooney explained. “In virtually all of the lots in this area there is simply no place to put parking on the property so what people end up doing, they have to pay an onerous impact fee of $40,000 per space. Oftentimes that’s cost prohibitive for good additions or boutique-type additions to hotels. And from what we’ve seen, the only entities that have been willing to write these checks in the past are CVS and Walgreens.” 

“We believe [the proposal would have] a significant impact on the ability of people to do good hotel additions and invest in their properties in the area,” he said.

There’s also a proposal to steamline alley connectivity across Ocean Court.” Mooney cited The Betsy Hotel as one example where the owners connected the hotel facing Ocean Drive with two buildings behind it on Collins Avenue via the orb that is visible over the alley in between (photo above).

“We’ve seen this done very successfully at The Betsy. The Essex has proposed this with the Clevelander,” Mooney said. “We believe that this is an excellent way, again, of taking the pressure off deliveries and drop-off on Ocean Drive and allowing that to be accommodated on Collins Avenue. 

Commissioner Ricky Arriola said he liked the incentives. “Everything should be on the table to really make this a world-class district” including density and height.

“The one thing that I am very reluctant to support is the creation of yet another board,” he said referring to the proposed alcohol board. “It troubles me. I think there’s, hopefully, better ways to do that.”

He did like the idea of having better controls over alcohol service hours. “It’s a privilege, not a right,” Arriola said. “But I don’t want to make it so onerous and painful that bars and clubs don’t open in the district. I don’t think an Alcohol Control Board is the mechanism for that but I do like idea of the City taking an inventory of all of the establishments that can stay open ‘til 5 am and support the ones that can do it right but not support the ones that abuse it and contribute to the decline of the neighborhood.”

Arriola and several others echoed the sentiment that, despite businesses being closed for the pandemic, problems continued in the area. “I don’t want us to get solely focused on bars, clubs and alcohol sales as the main driver of the bad behavior that we’re seeing because I think that will maybe lead us on the wrong path,” he said. “It’s certainly a contributing factor but the fact is, over the last six months, bars and clubs have been closed and we’ve had curfews, yet we still see behavior that is not consistent with the Miami Beach brand so, therefore, there’s a loose correlation, if any correlation, between bars and clubs and behavior.”

“I don’t want to see us just hang, you know, the bad behavior on bars and clubs and alcohol sales because I think it’s more than that,” Arriola added. “I think we need to look at the entire district and focus on better investment, better business establishment, more policing, more modeling of the behavior we want to see, programming, and tackle this through design, through street design, building design, and I think we’ll get there if we look at it with a lot of pieces to this puzzle and not merely just chalk it up to ‘Hey, close bars and clubs and this problem will go away.’ That won’t be the solution.”

Commissioner Michael Góngora expressed concerns about the midnight hour. “I’ve never lived in a town that closed that early,” he said. “Midnight for a historic block like Ocean Drive is very problematic for me.” He mentioned the recent voter referendum in which residents rejected rolling back service hours to 2 am.  

Góngora said he found the proposal for an alcohol control board “incredibly troubling... Google alcohol control boards and you will see that they are problematic all over the place, tons of fraud, accusations of ‘payola’ and things that I don’t think we want to introduce and bring to Miami Beach.” 

While, ultimately, he said he would “keep an open mind to a board,” he is not in favor of a board appointed by the City Manager.  “I’m not open to non-elected people selecting those members,” he said, adding “the public puts faith” in its elected officials.

Overall, though, Góngora said, “I do think this is a great conversation. I do love the idea of reinventing Ocean Drive for the future.”

The area’s prior successes occurred both by planning “and by accident” when the movie and fashion industry made Miami Beach a place to be, he said. “We really need to think about how we can keep the legacy buildings going, close the bad operators and narrowly craft legislation to do that and do something to really bring in some exciting new blood and cultural groups and historic groups to the city and I think some of the [proposed zoning] measures in the land use area are not specifically geared to do that.”

Gelber, concerned about a mischaracterization of the alcohol ordinance, said, “I want to clarify my view because I think it’s not exactly what people are saying. I’m not saying stop liquor sales at midnight. I’m saying change the way in which we allow people to open up past midnight.”

“We need to create a mechanism by which we can control operators so that good ones have nothing to worry about and bad ones don’t survive in the city,” he said. “If there’s one thing that’s clear about the current system, bad operators survive in this city. We are unable to stop them under the current system.”

Rather than automatically letting everyone sell alcohol until 5 am, Gelber said he wants those who want to serve beyond midnight to agree to certain requirements. Those that violate the requirements would lose the privilege to operate past midnight.

“We’ve got to find a new system,” Gelber continued. “My approach isn’t to say we’re shutting down at midnight,” it’s to require those that operate later to agree to follow certain rules.

As to the Alcohol Control Board, he said, “I don’t care if it’s a board or a group of people that work for the City… The current system hasn’t stopped any of it and only allowed it to snowball and that is not something we can continue, so if you want to do the same thing over and over again, don’t change it and you’ll have it.”

“What I’m imploring you to do is say ‘Change the system’ so that our enforcement is easy and that everybody knows the rules,” Gelber said. “If we raise the floor that will be where everybody goes to. If we have no floor, we’re getting what we deserve.”

Commissioner David Richardson echoed Arriola’s comments about the cause of the problem. “The problem is not focused on the bars and the clubs because they’ve all been closed for the last six months [yet] we’ve had all these problems with Ocean Drive and the Entertainment District, so I’m not at all convinced that the problem is with the operators there. There are some bad operators, for sure, but the problem is that we’ve got an amazing place here and people want to come here and sometimes our visitors come here and they don’t understand that they’ve got to follow the rules.”

“I don’t want to just point the finger and that’s one reason why I’m triggered a little bit by the discussion on alcohol sales because its points to operators and I don’t think that’s really where the problem is,” Richardson said.

Saying he was “encouraged” by the increase in police staffing, Richardson said, “The truth is that we may need even more security.” He said he was concerned by an earlier referenced analysis that showed costs exceeded revenues in the district by $6 million.  

“I don’t think that’s a good number,” Richardson said, adding security will be seen as an additional cost by people who “think we’re already in the red.” 

“I think we are in the positive by millions and millions and millions of dollars,” he said. He wants to discuss the issue at the next Commission meeting in October. The final report to the City indicated, “This is an incomplete study,” he said. “It says we didn’t consider this. We didn’t consider that. We didn’t consider this other thing. I don’t want to say it’s a flawed study. I want to say it’s an incomplete study.”

“The reason it’s so important is because I think we have to make an investment in this area and I’m tired of people quoting that number like we’re in the hole because I don’t think we’re in the hole,” Richardson said. “I think actually that area generates millions and millions of dollars for the district.”

He was the third Commissioner to say he was “very troubled by the nature of an Alcohol Control Board.”

“I don’t want to transfer problems to a new category by having a five-person board that may have their own political agenda or some other agenda,” he said. “It bothers me. I don’t know any other local areas that have tried this where it’s been successful… I’m open to hearing more but I think that we need to explore other ways to address the problem because I don’t think this is the solution or I certainly haven’t been convinced yet.”

As to curtailing hours of operation, he said, “I’m a 5 am kind of guy. I do think it’s a privilege to operate in the City and not a right,” but added, “I’m not going to be able to support a midnight closing. I want us to continue thinking about how we can manage the problem that we have. I ran on a platform of being a 5 am kind of person… Let’s keep thinking about how we can solve the problem but creating an alcohol control board is just another level of bureaucracy that I don’t think is going to solve our problem.”

Commissioner Steve Meiner said, “We do have good establishments there [in the MXE] but we’ve lost control… The good operators admit that we’ve lost control. Our residents know we’ve lost control. Our tourists know we’ve lost control and we need to take back that control.”

Regarding an alcohol board, he said, “Whatever mechanism we come up with, we have to be able to control it and certainly we don’t want any boards that could be politicized… but we just need to have that level of ability where the City is in more control than we are right now.”

He said he would “likely” be supportive of zoning amendments that would “incentivize high caliber hotels,” specifically mentioning the alley connectivity. “I think we’re in the right direction,” he said.

Commissioner Mark Samuelian who has sponsored a number of the previous ordinances to clean up Ocean Drive said, “We need to get control. I believe that that is going to be the governing principle. We do not have the degree of control that we need. I think we have a major problem on our hands.”

While he said he can “appreciate the history” of Miami Beach’s heydays that Góngora and Richarson highlighted, he noted, “We put a lot of resources, time and attention to Ocean Drive.” 

MBPD’s recommendations for additional law enforcement are “an important part of the equation,” he said, “but I don’t think we can completely police our way out of the problem… I believe we’ve got an environment where people believe anything goes and I think the alcohol hours and the focus on nightlife, parties all night, has contributed to that problem and the risk is not getting control of that problem.”

“My position is that we do need to rollback alcohol hours,” he continued. “I think that’s part of the equation. I’m not sure if midnight’s the magic hour. I don’t know that’s necessarily the magic point, but I do believe rolling back alcohol hours sends a message to the type of environment we’re trying to create.”

“I share some of the skepticism around an alcohol control board,” Samuelian said. “I understand what we’re trying to do. Right now, I would say I share that skepticism that that may not be the mechanism that we need.”

While supportive of a rollback in alcohol hours, he said the City is “a bit of a balloon. If you push in one area, it shows up in another area, so I want us to be very careful about changes in alcohol hours in one district and what impact it has on the other.”

As an example, he said, “If we reduce hours in the Entertainment District… does that whole environment move to someplace like Alton Road… I think we need to look for some sort of consistency and, I believe, at this moment, getting control of the situation is a priority before we nuance how we get to later hours.”

 
Image from Shutterstock.com
 

Potential Legal Challenges

City Attorney Raul Aguila advised the Mayor and Commissioners of the “potential risks” in a rollback of alcohol service hours as well as an alcohol control board.

Operators authorized to sell alcohol until 5 am with Conditional Use Permits (CUPs) have notified the City they believe they have “vested rights” through their CUPs. “There will probably be a legal challenge from some of the current alcoholic beverage establishments within the district and that challenge will be based on whether, for example, a CUP entitles them to some sort of vested right versus the government’s discretion under State law” to regulate alcohol, Aguila said.

In an indication of potential legal action to come, a third-party stenographer took notes during the workshop.

“We will certainly abide by and vigorously defend whatever policy this Commission determines,” Aguila emphasized. “However, prior to considering legislation that has potential legal issues, it is my job to disclose that to you earlier rather than later.”

Attorney Alex Tachmes of Shutts & Bowen LLP sent a letter to the City in July after Gelber’s initial proposal on behalf of clients Jesta Group which owns the Clevelander Hotel on Ocean Drive along with the Essex House Hotel and the Stiles Hotel on Collins Avenue and The Palace Bar and Ocean’s Ten, both on Ocean Drive, in which he outlined objections to the proposal. “Not only is it illegal to attempt to take away the vested rights under our CUP, but it is bad policy for the City to penalize and attempt to shut down the businesses with CUP’s on Ocean Drive, which include the Clevelander, the Palace and Mango’s.” [Updated to reflect clients represented by Tachmes in his letter. Mango's Chief Operating Officer Joshua Wallack has since reached out to indicate while they did participate in the first letter, they are represented by attorney Monika Entin and "do not seek litigation with the city."]

“All of these are highly regarded businesses, which already have received extra analysis and vetting through the conditional use process and which remain under the continuing jurisdiction of the Planning Board,” Tachmes wrote. “The proposed legislation that would require iconic and historic businesses like the Clevelander with CUP’s to have to apply for new 5:00 a.m. approvals that could be revoked annually is not something we can accept for multiple reasons.”

A week before the Commission workshop, representatives of the Clevelander, The Palace Bar, Mango’s Tropical Café and Ocean’s Ten expressed their disappointment in the lack of “tangible results” from discussions with the Mayor, Commissioners and City Staff regarding the proposals. In a joint letter, the representatives detailed numerous contacts beginning in early August. In one, on August 20, they wrote, “[O]ur lawyers sent a detailed letter to the city on the topic of vested land use rights (with support from many legal authorities) and requested confirmation from the city that it would recognize these clear vested rights. We received no response.”

“We are frustrated that the city has not made a meaningful attempt to address the multiple serious concerns we have” with the proposed ordinances, they wrote. “Remember, we are not the ‘bad operators’ that are the supposed target of these ordinances. We are the pillars of Ocean Drive’s entertainment fabric and have each been in operation for more than twenty (20) years some of us more than thirty (30) years in the City of Miami Beach.” 

“With the Workshop only several days away, the lack of progress we have made with the City regarding these ordinances leaves us very few options. We want to go on record in stating that we tried diligently and in good faith to resolve the issues with you in a cooperative manner over the course of many weeks. Unfortunately, at this critical juncture, we are at an impasse,” the letter concludes.

 
Spring break 2019 crowd on Ocean Drive. Photo courtesy Ceci Velasco, Ocean Drive Association
 

“Bold ideas”

In wrapping up the discussion, Gelber said, “There are a lot of bold ideas here” with a combination of “carrots and sticks.”

The problems in the Entertainment District, he said, are the result of “business models [that are] cemented in.” 

“As much as we want to inspire investment and change the topography and change the physicality and throw the art in there and create some mixed-use concepts and some imagination concepts, we still need some sticks.”

Those sticks include not just alcohol regulations, but the sidewalk café tables, now tied to the Code of Conduct for operators. Sidewalk café tables, often the most lucrative financially for restaurants, can be closed for a period of time for violations. “You take away café tables, you really hurt somebody,” Gelber said.

“I don’t care if it’s a liquor control board,” he said. “We don’t necessarily need that. We don’t need a board, but what we do need to say to everybody is, ‘If you want tables, you want the privilege to stay out late, then… you have to do the following things. If you don’t, [the tables can be] pulled from you.”

“Serving alcohol should always be a conditional use… that’s all I’m saying. Just make it a conditional use with very, very strict requirements,” Gelber implored. 

“We have to use carrots to elevate the entire plateau and the entire horizon,” he said. “I need you guys… to really buy into this because I think we can all agree we haven’t stopped [the problems] yet… We can’t just continue to do the same thing and hope that we’re going to attract some places like Wynwood has because all we’re going to have is the same thing with just a nicer drive with some artwork on it. We won’t change anything.”

Finally, Gelber urged Commissioners to use the COVID slowdown “as an opportunity to really jump onto this and emerge as the beautiful, exciting, iconic safe place that we know we are.”

Follow up with Mayor Gelber

In a follow up interview to see how Gelber perceived the reception of Commissioners and the local community to the proposals, he noted that while his proposal regarding hours of operation for alcohol establishments is "getting a lot of attention, it’s not the most important part. It’s a piece of many pieces.”

He also emphasized, “It’s important to understand my intention isn’t to shut the places down at midnight. It’s simply to change the way in which we are able to regulate bad actors,” by getting them to agree to condition their ability to have early morning alcohol service on following certain requirements.

We’ll note here that this is where the use of the term “rollback” is confusing. While midnight is the hour proposed for businesses that choose not to abide by the requirements to close, those who want to keep the early morning hours can immediately apply for the extension of hours. They would then need to be approved for that extension by an alcohol board or some other mechanism, but that option would exist "contemporaneously" with any new law as Planning Director Mooney noted. There is no guarantee, of course, that an establishment would be approved or that they would be allowed to keep their extended hours, but there seems to be a misunderstanding that all businesses would be required to close at midnight immediately and work their way into extended hours. The way Gelber explains it, the application for extended hours could be made at the same time any new law went into effect.

“I’m just looking to find a way to better control the district and to deal with the bad actors who, unfortunately, have dragged everybody down with them,” Gelber said. “We just haven’t been able to control them with the current system" which doesn't have the teeth of losing service hours for not complying with the City's rules.

"I know people are worried, but if you’re a good operator don’t worry. If you’re a bad operator, you ought to be squealing. It’s that simple,” Gelber said.

Asked about feedback from the community, he said, “I think there’s a lot of support for a lot of the ideas, but it’s important that we not water them down. We really need dramatic action.”

It’s not all about the alcohol, he noted. “The thing is, there’s a lot of pieces of this mosaic and they all are important,” from cultural activations to development incentives.

“I was happy with the fact that there was a full complement of ideas” from the Administration, Gelber said. “I’ve seen a lot of these ideas grow… We need to include as much as possible” in a final plan. “We need to do something more dramatic than we’ve done and it’s not simply a policing issue.”

“There’s something attracting this kind of conduct,” he said. “You can’t arrest your way out of this. There has to be a change in the fabric of the area.”

Like so many of our Ocean Drive stories, this one is to be continued…

Details on the proposals presented at this month’s MXE/Art Deco Cultural District Workshop here.

And if you want to let the Mayor and Commissioners know what you think, find their emails here.


 

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