Anatomy of a Party

How do you prepare for a holiday bash with 400,000 guests? Very, very thoroughly.

Beach police plan to close Ocean Drive to vehicular traffic between Fifth and Fifteenth streets from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. for the entire Thursday-to-Monday holiday. Collins and Washington avenues will be restricted to north-south traffic; many side streets will be barricaded. Police also plan to make more room for pedestrians on the east side of Washington by blocking off one traffic lane. Shuttles will run continuously down the two avenues in a loop from the convention center and from city parking lots.

Capt. John DiCenso told a group of nightclub owners last week that officers will be posted at intervals along Fifth Street from the MacArthur Causeway to direct traffic to commercial routes and away from residential neighborhoods. There will also be electronic signs on the causeways directing tourists to parking, as well as a contingency plan for closing the MacArthur if the Beach becomes seriously overloaded. In the heart of the Deco District, officers will be stationed at every intersection. More will be on foot and bicycle patrol.

At 6:00 p.m. Thursday evening Miami Beach police will begin working double shifts until Monday. More than 200 officers will be on duty at any one time, supplemented by 87 county cops, a few dozen state troopers, and police from surrounding municipalities. "We will have a little over 500 officers total, with around 380 Beach officers, the county, other cities, and FHP," says Ofcr. Jerome Berrian, who will supervise 100 to 200 goodwill ambassadors, volunteers in bright yellow shirts who will walk the streets assisting tourists. Berrian is also hoping to have 50 or so local clergy form an orange-shirted God Squad. Such volunteers, he says, have worked well in Daytona Beach and at last year's Source Awards. "They get more respect than even the goodwill ambassadors," he explains. "They are the most effective. Nobody wants to mess with the God Squad."

This contingent of official peacekeepers, though, will be dwarfed by the private security expected to be retained by clubs and hotels. One firm has told the city it plans to have 300 to 500 guards working the Beach that weekend. Andrea Melotti, general manager of the plush Sagamore Hotel, 1671 Collins Ave., says his resort will employ more private security than normal, plus two off-duty state troopers, to protect an extensive art collection spread throughout the hotel. "We are also not accepting large groups and no major parties because even if the organizers are strict, [a hotel party] can attract attention from the street," Melotti adds. "At the same time, we don't want to be discriminatory. Our best guest lately has been P. Diddy."

Jeff Abbaticchio, spokesman for the Loews Miami Beach, 1601 Collins Ave., says the city has done an exceptional job of planning this year. "Last year," he recalls, "everybody got caught with their pants down." Including the Loews. The very expensive wedding of a wealthy couple from New York was frighteningly interrupted last year by what some described as a "near riot" situation and pepper spray in the adjoining lobby. What is the Loews doing to prevent that kind of horrific scene? "Well, we're not having any weddings this Memorial Day weekend," Abbaticchio laughs.

Sharone Tzalik, general manager of the Best Western South Beach, 1050 Washington Ave., says the upcoming weekend has been booked for more than a month. He views the holiday crowds as a huge economic boost. "Our reputation is on the line," he acknowledges. "The city, they'd rather be careful than sorry. But I think it's maybe a little too much."

But there are others, notably residents, who feel the city isn't doing enough. Morris Sunshine, a South Pointe activist who lives at the intersection of Fifth Street and Ocean Drive, says many of his fellow residents are "deeply concerned that there will be a huge amount of unnecessary traffic, excessive noise, rowdyism, drinking, and trash. We are concerned there's just not enough police power," Sunshine complains. "We're acting in my building like we're under siege. We will go to the store to buy four or five days of supplies, and basically we'll hole up. For those four days we basically don't own the city -- they do."

David Kelsey, president of the South Beach Hotel and Restaurant Association, reports that at a recent meeting of the Ocean Drive Association some residents said the National Guard should be put on standby for Memorial Day. "The city kind of laughs at the idea of having the National Guard on hand, but it's no laughing matter," he argues. "To squeeze that many people in just a few blocks -- do the math. You just can't fit that many people in. Nobody wants to overreact. [The city is] always very cautious about anyone being able to make claims about racism. If it were anybody but a predominantly black crowd, there would be no question about what they should do. I think they are genuinely afraid to take action."

As far as city officials are concerned, however, they are taking action -- lots of it. "This is the most extensive planning we've ever had for a special event," Officer Berrian says. "We want everyone to come, have a good time, be safe, and come back."

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