The COVID-19 pandemic has brought South Florida heartache and financial damage. The world, our world, has slowed to a crawl.
But within that pause, there is a unique opportunity to think anew, to reboot, to give a flashy, trashy tourist strip a makeover. That’s what Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber wants to do with South Beach during the pandemic. Basically, he’s saying, “Enough!”
Gelber announced Wednesday that he, other city leaders and many residents are tired of the debauchery between Fifth and 16th Streets on Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue. We’ve all seen the videos on YouTube of the street brawls and drunkenness, especially during Spring Break, Memorial Day the Fourth of July — or any given weekend, for that matter.
“Over the last few decades, South Beach has grown to resemble a beachfront Bourbon Street, with all-night hard drinking and too much misbehavior,” Gelber said at a commission meeting, making an unfavorable comparison to New Orleans’ entertainment district.
It’s not exactly the future that Art Deco champion Barbara Capitman had in mind back in the 1980s when she fought to rescue the beautiful ’30s and ’40s hotels along Ocean Drive from the wrecking ball.
Now that the coronavirus has put a damper on the party, Gelber says its a good time time for South Beach to change, just as it has in the past.
The sale of alcohol until 5 a.m. on South Beach is at the root of much of the district’s evil. The late-night street partying has held residents hostage long enough.
On Wednesday, Gelber proposed a handful of significant policy changes, mainly moving up “last call” for alcohol sales to midnight at restaurants, bars and clubs — with some exceptions.
The proposal also calls for the enforcement of the city’s open-container law and a crackdown on loud music, mandating that, “No music can be audible outside the confines of each individual property along Ocean Drive.”
“We’ve lost control of our brand,” Gelber told the Miami Herald. He is absolutely right. Gelber added that the city has tried “to address this from the edges for too long. We have to address this from the inside.”
Arts and culture
Gelber told the Editorial Board that after unveiling the plan, he’s received “very positive” feedback. Of course, club owners’ concerns must be part of the new equation. Liquor sales are big revenue producers.
“Our city has made a conscious commitment to develop a bona fide arts and culture profile. It only makes sense that South Beach seek to embrace that brand,” he said.
It’s been done before. Fort Lauderdale, for years known as the capital of Spring Break rolled up the welcome mat and put an end to the wild party a decade ago. The strategy succeeded. Even New York’s tawdry Time Square now is family friendly. South Beach can do the same.
Under Gelber’s proposal, which the City Commission will take up at its next meeting, the South Beach entertainment district would be renamed to reflect the area’s cultural roots. One name being considered is the Art Deco Cultural District. We think Capitman would like that.
The city would try to attract museums and galleries and high-class dining. A new marketing campaign would be launched for visitors seeking a cultural experience. Try: “Miami Beach: The boozing is over, come for the culture.”
An editorial from The Miami Herald.^p