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Rewind to January 1999, Super Bowl weekend on South Beach: Traffic paralyzes the streets, cars overflow from parking lots, and partygoers cavort on sidewalks. Fast-forward to New Year's Eve 1999, the end of the millennium: Pairs of cops stand watch on every corner, buses transport revelers to the Beach in an orderly fashion, and all four lanes of Washington Avenue move smoothly ... in a southerly direction.
On December 31, 1999, Miami Beach officials expect hundreds of thousands of partiers to swamp nightspots and bop to the anthem of The Artist Formerly Known to Own Glam Slam. The city is gonna let them party like a lockdown in a state penitentiary. The goal: Keep the bacchanal off the street to avoid a repeat of Super Bowl night. "It was on the verge of being a riot," recalls David Kelsey, president of the South Beach Hotel and Restaurant Association. "Only a miracle kept us from losing control."
About 200 of the Miami Beach Police Department's finest are scheduled to work December 31. Most will spread out on South Beach. Authorities believe cops on every corner will deter the unruly behavior that sometimes results when large, drunken crowds gather. One unfortunate consequence is that clubs won't be able to hire Beach officers for security jobs. But police brass believe the men in blue stationed on the street will be able to respond to trouble inside the establishments. For joints that require a cop at the door, Miami-Dade police and Florida Highway Patrol officers will be available.
Authorities are also brushing up on crowd-control tactics and contemplating the purchase of riot-quashing devices in case Chaos on Washington Avenue becomes more than a snooty, overpriced nightclub. They are considering arming cops with guns that shoot nets, rubber bullets, or bean bags. The Miami-Dade Police Department, which garnered experience handling civil disturbances during the Eighties, has offered reinforcements. The Beach is mulling over that proposition.
Still up for debate is a drastic strategy to convert the major streets in the city's southern half into one-way routes, Kelsey says. Under this plan all lanes on Collins Avenue would flow north and Washington Avenue drivers could only head south. The MacArthur Causeway (I-395) would funnel traffic on to the island and the Julia Tuttle (I-195) would be open only to return to the mainland. The Venetian Causeway would be restricted to local residents and emergency vehicles. City officials may test the traffic pattern two weekends before the celebration.
This much of the plan is clear. The Porsches and Harley-Davidsons frequently parked along Ocean Drive will be forced to vacate the street during a concert by the Gypsy Kings and Blondie. Pyrotechnics experts will launch a fireworks display from a barge on the ocean after the show. And the auditorium on Tenth Street will be converted into a mini-MASH unit to handle overexuberant Beach visitors' bumps and scrapes; the seriously injured will be stabilized there for transport to local hospitals.
"We are still studying all of the plans to ensure they make sense," says Mayra Diaz Buttacavoli, the Miami Beach assistant city manager assigned the fun task of organizing millennial celebrations.
An even more controversial strategy calls for the island city to turn away revelers when parking lots reach capacity. Only residents and hotel guests with proper identification would be allowed to enter under this scheme. Everyone else would have to go elsewhere to pop their champagne corks. To avoid the possibility that partiers might welcome 2000 in a traffic jam, the city and the Miami-Dade Transit Authority propose to run shuttle buses to transport merrymakers from points throughout the county. More than 500,000 people are expected on the Beach for New Year's Eve.
Although Buttacavoli says no one will be shut out of the festivities, police sources and David Kelsey say they have heard city officials discuss closing the causeways to control crowds. The South Beach Hotel and Restaurant Association supports the idea. Many businesses posted a 50 percent increase in sales during Super Bowl weekend, but they also suffered substantial property damage. "All of us expect they will pull the plug and close the causeway," Kelsey remarks. "We are the bottom third of a sandbar. We just can't handle crowds like that." The association president adds that his organization's main concern is ensuring access for hotel and restaurant employees, as well as guests coming from the mainland.
Have a comment? The Miami Beach City Commission may adopt, alter, or kill the grand New Year's Eve plan during a discussion scheduled for November 17.