We need a better solution to preserve Miami Beach’s uniquely significant nightlife while satisfying residents’ concerns about the scenes we have seen play out in viral videos.
I sound the alarm now because the fate of South Beach is hanging in the balance.
There is a bill to end alcohol sales at 2 a.m. on Ocean Drive that will change the character of the Beach’s most iconic street forever, moving the South Beach party west, where clubs and lounges would not have to close at 2 a.m., causing alcohol-fueled, pot-smoking havoc in those residential neighborhoods.
My suggestion to improve Ocean Drive is to urge Miami Beach and the commission to consider a solution that Chicago uses, with a new and improved off-duty policing program, plus a special licensing scheme for late-night venues. Under that scheme, liquor service would shut down at 2 a.m. citywide. Venues such as LIV, Mango’s, Mynt Lounge and others would apply for a late-hour liquor license, which would include having off-duty police on the the premises, security cameras and other safety measures.
Mayor Dan Gelber and the commission don’t have to follow a former mayor down the path to oblivion.
It helps to know how we arrived at a crossroads in the city’s posture towards Ocean Drive. In 2014, the city issued four specific, devastating policy decisions under former Mayor Phillip Levine’s administration.
First, the city made a fateful decision to destroy a $1.5 billion redevelopment plan for the Miami Beach Convention Center. Then, Levine took a straw poll and turned it into city policy, unleashing uncontrolled marijuana smoking that has created a street party instead of people in venues. A brand-new police chief removed all off-duty officers from nightclubs. Finally, Miami Beach began attacking itself led by, again, the former mayor, who owned significant holdings on the once-gritty industrial west side of South Beach. Only months after, Levine declared Ocean Drive a “cancer” and then waged a never-ending war against a business district. It culminated in a failed referendum in 2017, but here we are in 2021 fighting the same measure.
The former mayor ignored warnings and unraveled the visionary plan to use Miami Beach’s convention center redevelopment to turn the city into a year-round destination within days of taking office.
Today, the city is over-budget, and court records show it is already losing litigation to its convention center contractor after national developers fled the bid process. A decade later, we have no convention hotel to compete for post-COVID business.
A second problem arose in the arena of policing and managing a tourist area. The city got passed a law aimed at pleasing statewide voters instead of targeted toward physical reality on the ground. Miami Beach decriminalized marijuana possession in a high-profile way and simultaneously banned off-duty officers from being hired by nightclubs indefinitely. Our crime troubles have only multiplied since then.
On Ocean Drive, any business could tell you how the twin policies drew people out of clubs and into public spaces, keeping police out of our private establishments, where they could stop trouble in its tracks before it spilled into the street.
In the spring of 2015, Levine publicly referred to Ocean Drive, the city’s most iconic street — a street the city uses on it marketing material sent all over the world — as a “cancer.” Little did we understand then, but the former mayor had a financial stake in promoting a different neighborhood, where he eventually sold his real estate there for a huge profit less than a year after leaving office.
Seventy percent of Miami Beach voters rejected the rollback of late-night club operations on Ocean Drive in 2017, the night Dan Gelber became the current mayor.
Yet, the “cancer” myth at City Hall still reverberates, unfortunately.
The city of Miami Beach is prepared to sacrifice the golden goose that grew its international reputation at the altar of expedient fixes after a series of bad decisions.
Don’t do it.
Joshua Wallack is chief operation officer of Mango’s Tropical Cafe, former vice chairman of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Ocean Drive Association & Executive Committee.