Ultra’s March festival canceled over coronavirus fears in Miami, sources say

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UPDATE: On Friday, March 3, Miami city leaders and Ultra organizers confirmed that the 2020 event has been canceled. Read more here.

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The 2020 Ultra Music Festival will be postponed — possibly for a full year, which would effectively cancel this year’s edition of Miami’s marquee electronic dance music event, the Miami Herald has learned.

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The decision to postpone, which sent shock waves through the electronic dance music community on social media, was made in a meeting Wednesday morning between Miami’s elected leaders and Ultra representatives, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter. Before the meeting, Mayor Francis Suarez and Commissioner Joe Carollo told reporters they wanted to postpone the event due to concerns over the spread of novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.

City officials have yet to announce details of the change because attorneys are ironing out the legal issues tied to the decision, including the length of the delay, sources said.

Wednesday morning, Suarez, Carollo and City Manager Art Noriega met with Ultra representatives to discuss the possibility of postponing the three-day event, which is scheduled to open March 20 at Bayfront Park. The meeting followed a press conference where Carollo and Suarez called for the event’s postponement. After the meeting, Carollo and Suarez told reporters they had reached a resolution, but there would not be an official announcement until Friday morning.

Listen to today's top stories from the Miami Herald:

“The decision was made to postpone it,” Commissioner Manolo Reyes told the Herald, shortly after Suarez briefed him on the meeting. Reyes also signaled that the city will likely look at postponing another large event on the city’s March calendar.

“I agreed with the decision to postpone it,” Reyes said. “And now I’m worried about the Calle Ocho Festival.”

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Sources with knowledge of the deal told the Herald that Ultra and the city intend to postpone the event until 2021, effectively nixing the 2020 event. The move would mark the first time in the festival’s 21-year history that Ultra will not produce an event in the greater Miami area.

But Noriega did not address the details of the deal because the city’s legal team and Ultra are still drafting language for a new agreement.

“We’re working on a plan with them, and I’ll formally announce it on Friday,” Noriega told the Herald. “The devil’s in the details. I haven’t seen the actual draft of the agreement.”

The lack of clarity after the private meeting caused ticket holders to wonder if the event would go on or not. Critics furiously weighed in on social media, lambasting the city for overreacting and suggesting the festival could affect the spread of coronavirus. Others said postponement or cancellation made sense. Many pointed out that fans booked flights and hotels way in advance, so they are likely to come to Miami anyway.

On Twitter, the reaction was swift and divided after news of the cancellation.

“Wow my whole year is now ruined,” tweeted one user named Arabella Macapagal.

“Better to be safe,” wrote Suzanne Maresca. “People come from around the world. This sucks but is a smart decision.”

Wednesday morning, Carollo and Suarez — who have had heated political feuds in the past — stood side-by-side to announce that they wanted to see Ultra postponed.

“We’re saying suspend it to a later date when we’ll have a better idea of where we’re heading with the coronavirus,” said Carollo, emphasizing that the city does not want to outright cancel the event.

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Suarez said that Ultra presents a unique challenge in that people come from abroad to attend the festival, which has a capacity of 55,000 per day. The mayor said residents have asked the city to consider postponing or canceling Ultra.

“I can tell you that just in the last 24 hours, I have received countless emails and messages of all kinds urging the city to act,” Suarez said. “That is another major motivator to have this conversation before it gets too late.”

Suarez had said if Ultra did not agree to postponing the event, the city has the power to cancel the event under the existing contract.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Commissioner Joe Carollo called a press conference at City Hall to talk about the measures the city government will take to prepare for coronavirus. One of those measures could be to postpone Ultra Music Festival, currently scheduled for March 20-22.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and Commissioner Joe Carollo called a press conference at City Hall to talk about the measures the city government will take to prepare for coronavirus. One of those measures could be to postpone Ultra Music Festival, currently scheduled for March 20-22.

An Ultra representative walking into City Hall declined to comment on the possibility of postponement before the meeting, saying the organizers would provide a statement after the meeting. As of 7 p.m. Wednesday, Ultra had not responded to the Herald’s request.

It is unclear how the decision will impact ticket holders.

Listen to today's top stories from the Miami Herald:

Ultra, a major live music event in Miami that has been produced annually for more than 20 years, was scheduled to return to Bayfront Park after one year on Virginia Key. Residents’ complaints over noise and limited access to the park, along with political feuds, have framed the controversy around Ultra’s future in the city’s public spaces — at one point last year, it appeared that the festival might move to Homestead after logistical issues plagued the Virginia Key event.

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After commissioners expressed second thoughts about booting the event from Bayfront Park in 2018, they approved a new licensing agreement in 2019 for the festival to stage its 2020 festival on downtown’s waterfront again.

Ultra’s brand stretches across the world, with events on multiple continents. In the last week, Ultra’s event in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, was canceled by local organizers.

Noriega said the city and Ultra need to reach a final agreement on how to proceed by Friday because festival organizers would otherwise be closing Bayfront Park to set up the stages.

“We want to make sure we have everything buttoned up on a mutually agreed upon plan with Ultra,” he said.

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