Last call for alcohol: Commission to hold final vote on 2 a.m. rollback in South Beach

·3 min read

The Miami Beach City Commission will hold a potentially binding vote Wednesday on a proposal to stop selling alcohol after 2 a.m. in the South Beach entertainment district.

But on the day before the vote, questions remained about whether the legislation would be permanent or rolled out as a temporary pilot program if approved.

As it was written on Tuesday, the ordinance would permanently move up by three hours the current 5 a.m. cutoff of alcohol sales on Collins Avenue and Ocean Drive from 16th Street to Fifth Street. However, the commission voted last month to approve the proposal as a temporary restriction — though no details were offered about the duration of the pilot program.

“It is anticipated that the details of such a pilot program, including the duration of the program, will be provided via supplemental agenda or discussed at the May 12, 2021 City Commission meeting,” reads in part a city memo attached to Wednesday’s meeting agenda.

A city spokeswoman wrote in an email that an 11th hour “proposed automatic sunset provision” would not alter the ordinance, meaning it would not have to return to the commission for a new vote on first reading.

Mayor Dan Gelber, who last month proposed the permanent rollback of alcohol sales, was forced to broker a deal with Commissioner Micky Steinberg to support only a temporary rollback in order to secure Steinberg’s swing vote and pass the measure 4-3.

Gelber said Tuesday that he doesn’t know what Steinberg will propose at the meeting.

“I think we’ll probably discuss it,” he said. “It could be anything.”

Miami Beach residents voted in 2017 against a proposal to cap alcohol sales on Ocean Drive at 2 a.m. And though frustration over late-night misbehavior in South Beach has been building for months, a midnight curfew has been in effect for much of the past calendar year due to COVID-19.

But Gelber said he will continue to make the case that a permanent restriction on alcohol sales is needed to change South Beach’s perception as an anything-goes party hub.

The 2 a.m. rollback is one of several policies Gelber has proposed to curb criminal behavior and rowdiness in South Beach, with the goal of turning the “entertainment-only” district into a “live-work-play” area with boutique offices and residential buildings.

“I’m going to support anything we can to get it done,” he said.

The commission will also vote Wednesday on whether to restrict standalone bars in the district and eliminate a noise exemption on Ocean Drive between Ninth and 11th streets, a stretch home to popular hangouts like the Clevelander South Beach and Mango’s Tropical Cafe.

Steinberg wrote in a text message Tuesday that she has been “engaging our residents, businesses and community leaders on the issue...for weeks as I know this is an important conversation to have.”

She did not address questions about the details of her proposal or whether she would support a permanent rollback.

“I am eager for a healthy and productive dialogue tomorrow with my colleagues on the future of the area and look forward to hearing their ideas, issues and concerns as well,” Steinberg wrote in a text message.

For the business community, even a temporary rollback of alcohol sales would threaten the jobs of thousands of employees and possibly lead to closures, said Alexander Tachmes, an attorney representing the Clevelander. The Clevelander has put the city on notice that it will file a lawsuit if the commission rolls back the 5 a.m. alcohol cutoff.

Tachmes said the proposed restrictions have become more “draconian” over time, noting that Gelber initially proposed granting late-night nightclub licenses for certain businesses to sell alcohol past 2 a.m.

“We were really hoping that the city wouldn’t go down this road, but they aren’t really looking at this thing in a surgical way,” he said.

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