Plan to temporarily stop South Beach alcohol sales at 2 a.m. receives initial approval

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Martin Vassolo
·3 min read
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Four years after Miami Beach voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal to end late-night drinking in the famous tourist city, commissioners on Wednesday voted to temporarily restrict alcohol sales in the South Beach entertainment district.

A final vote is still needed to approve the pilot program, which does not yet include specific details about a starting date or duration. If approved during the second vote on May 12 — when the city says more specific details should be available — the legislation would institute a temporary 2 a.m. cutoff along Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue from Fifth to 16th streets.

Mayor Dan Gelber initially proposed to permanently roll back the current 5 a.m. last call for alcohol in the entertainment district, but he was forced to broker a deal with Commissioner Micky Steinberg to make his proposal a pilot program in order to get enough votes to pass the restrictions.

The legislation would affect 44 bars, restaurants and hotels that currently operate under the 5 a.m. last call for alcohol that is in effect citywide. Alcohol sales are already restricted on sidewalk cafes at 2 a.m.

Gelber asked Steinberg to come up with the framework of the pilot program before the next meeting.

“I’m the mayor, so the most important thing I do is count votes,” Gelber said. “Commissioner Steinberg, you are the fourth vote on this. So you will get your pilot even if I don’t think it’s the best idea in the world.”

Commissioners voted 4-3 to approve the item on first reading.

Gelber proposed the new policies following a rowdy spring break that compelled residents to protest outside City Hall. The proposal was part of a 12-point plan Gelber released in March.

“I think we’ve reached a true tipping point in the community. We have to seriously decide what we want this area to be,” Gelber said at the meeting. “Either you want to be an entertainment district or you want to be a live-work-play district...The 5 a.m. [last call] makes it clear that you’re one and not the other.”

Steinberg argued the city should see what effect the temporary rollback has on crime before making it permanent.

“You can call it a pilot, we can figure that out and see where it goes for second reading,” said Steinberg, who is term-limited and running for a seat on the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners in 2022.

Commissioners Ricky Arriola, Michael Góngora and David Richardson voted against the rollback.

The split decision from the commission followed presentations from academics, police, business owners and a representative from Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Two of the most popular bars that will be impacted by the law — the Clevelander South Beach and Mango’s Tropical Cafe — urged commissioners to reject the idea. Police Chief Richard Clements, who supported the proposal, said a 2 a.m. last call would give police a big help keeping the party district under control early in the morning.

“It’s my professional opinion that 2 a.m. is a good time,” Clements said.

Commissioners opposed to the rollback agreed changes are needed in South Beach, but said a 2 a.m. cutoff would not have prevented wild partying during spring break because Miami Beach was under a midnight curfew. They also said singling out the entertainment district could move the party to other parts of South Beach and the city, a concern raised by some residents.

Arriola criticized Gelber’s plan for focusing more on restrictions than incentives for investment in South Beach.

“I just think we are pursuing the wrong approach to do this,” Arriola said.

Commissioners also voted 6-1 on Wednesday to lift a noise exemption on Ocean Drive that allows businesses between Ninth and 11th streets to play music at any level facing east. The final vote on that item will also be May 12.