Ahead of spring break in South Beach, city manager says he won’t ‘tolerate anarchy’

Martin Vassolo
·4 min read

Last year, COVID-19 shut spring break down early in South Beach. The pandemic hasn’t gone away, but police believe this year’s party is going to run longer than ever before — and they’re doing what they can to keep everyone on their best behavior.

Miami Beach commissioners on Wednesday voted in favor of a seven-week plan to blanket the Beach with police and code officers, limit parking in South Beach and create a buffer zone between the city’s entertainment district and the residential South of Fifth neighborhood.

The plan is the city’s latest attempt to curb parties and late-night drinking — activities that city leaders have blamed on crime in the city’s world-famous entertainment district.

“If you want to party without restrictions, then go somewhere else. Go to Vegas,” said Interim City Manager Raul Aguila. “Miami Beach is not going to tolerate anarchy for spring break 2021.”

The enforcement effort will take effect Feb. 22 and wind down April 12.

As part of the plan, beach entry points from South Pointe Park to 15th Street will be staffed by city ambassadors checking for prohibited items — such as coolers, inflatable devices, tents, tables, backpacks and speakers. Retail liquor sales, which are banned after 8 p.m. in the South Beach entertainment district, will be restricted after 10 p.m. citywide.

The city will “aggressively” enforce laws against drinking alcohol on the beach, Aguila said. Police and code officers will rove the shoreline searching for “illegal activity” and violations of the city’s COVID-19 measures on mask use and social distancing. Park rangers will be dispatched to Lummus Park and the South Beach beachwalk.

The city’s marketing staff will target ads to college-age visitors from schools where Miami Beach is a popular destination among students. Pole banners, bus shelters, trolley wraps and even aerial ads will alert crowds to “vacation responsibly” and “follow the rules or face the consequences,” Aguila said.

In 2019, the city’s message was “Come on Vacation, Don’t Leave on Probation.” This year, the city’s working slogan is “Vacation Responsibly.”

Parking garages in the South Beach entertainment district will be limited to 50% capacity and parking fees will be set at a flat $20 rate

Vehicles trying to access the South of Fifth neighborhood, which the city said has been the victim of the nearby party scene on Ocean Drive, will be required to enter through Alton Road or Washington Avenue. The swank, condo-lined neighborhood was the scene of a car-drifting demonstration in December that went viral on social media and angered residents, some of whom believe the party scene is bleeding into their community.

Private security will be posted at side streets near the neighborhood. A license-plate reader will be activated each weekend along the Fifth Street corridor and, if necessary, police will shut down eastbound lanes of the MacArthur Causeway to limit traffic.

To crack down on party boats taking off from Miami Beach Marina, the city will assign a code officer to monitor the site 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Across South Beach, the city will beef up its code enforcement efforts by rescheduling shifts to run until 3 a.m. Sunday through Thursday.

Miami Beach Police interact with spring breakers in March 2019.
Miami Beach Police interact with spring breakers in March 2019.

Deputy Police Chief Wayne Jones, who addressed the commission, said he expects spring breakers to come “back in full force.” Cheap flights and hotel rooms will attract additional crowds, he said.

“They’ve been cooped up at home,” he said. “We anticipate this being the largest and longest spring break we’ve seen in quite some time.”

The city will beef up its police and code enforcement efforts by rescheduling shifts to maximize coverage. Miami-Dade Police officers will assist in the effort, with up to 30 cops from the county assigned to foot patrol in South Beach each Friday and Saturday during spring break.

“I hope that it will set the tone for heightened enforcement within the Art Deco Cultural District,” Aguila said.

Mayor Dan Gelber called the city’s plan the “most fulsome response we’ve seen” to spring break. The city did not say how much the enhanced staffing would cost.

Commissioner Michael Góngora said the city’s marketing efforts would put spring breakers on notice that reckless partying won’t be permitted in South Beach.

“I think the word needs to get out that Miami Beach is not the place to go to do these things,” he said.