Music News

Ultra Music Festival to Return to Bayfront Park in 2020

Ultra will return to Bayfront Park next year.
Ultra will return to Bayfront Park next year. Photo by aLIVE Coverage
Ultra Music Festival will return to Bayfront Park in downtown Miami next year.

After nearly a year of back-and-forth discussions, the City of Miami has decided to send the homegrown music festival back to its longtime home. In what was at times an explosive debate, the Miami City Commission voted 3-2 to offer a revokable license agreement to allow Ultra to return. Commissioners Keon Hardemon (District 5), Willy Gort (District 1), and Manolo Reyes (District 4) voted in favor. Commissioners Joe Carollo (District 3) and Ken Russell (District 2) voted in opposition.

The possibility of Ultra's return to Miami was put on the table by a resolution sponsored by Commissioner Keon Hardemon. It authorizes the city manager to negotiate an agreement with Event Entertainment Group (EEG) to allow Ultra Music Festival to once again return to Bayfront Park.

The newly revised license agreement includes changes such as modifying the sound level from 110 decibels to 102, eliminating one stage, ending the event at midnight on Friday and Saturday and 10 p.m. on Sunday, and leaving the children's park and dog park open throughout the majority of Bayfront Park's closure. The agreement also caps the festival's capacity to its current level of 55,000 attendees per day.

A major point of contention was the disputed $475,000 that the City of Miami says Ultra Music Festival still owes. That includes a significant amount of equipment purchased by the city including body armor and ATVs that were not in the original contract and that the city gets to maintain for future events such as the Super Bowl. Ultra compromised, agreeing to pay $308,000 — half within ten days of signing the contract and the rest within ten days of the event's conclusion in March. That's in addition to the $2 million fee Ultra will pay to host the music festival in Bayfront Park.

Residents of downtown Miami attended today's public hearing wearing white t-shirts and baseball hats emblazoned with the words "save Bayfront Park." Ultra's opponents expressed their disappointment that the three-day music festival could return to Biscayne Boulevard, arguing that the traffic and noise interfered with their daily lives and livelihoods. "Ultra has outgrown Bayfront Park," said one Brickell resident, while another insisted, "I'm not here to oppose Ultra, I'm here to oppose Ultra in my own front yard."

Ultra supporters highlighted the jobs the festival creates and the income it makes for the city. The music festival has "generated approximately $995 million of economic impact, generating $168 million and creating 1,834 jobs in 2018 alone," according to Hardemon's resolution. Hospitality employees at the public hearing also spoke in favor of the festival's return as a boon to the tourism industry. Representatives from VolunteerCleanup.org and the Surfrider Foundation also voiced their support for Ultra's return, praising its efforts to make it a sustainable event.

Ultra is one of the most popular events in EDM, with an estimated 165,000 concert attendees from around the world. Founded in 1999 and named after the Depeche Mode album of the same name, Ultra has since transitioned from a one-day event in Miami Beach's Collins Park to a global electronic music empire. Ultra Worldwide has launched more than 20 spinoff events across six continents, and the Miami flagship event regularly attracts a who's who of EDM superstars. Ultra stalwarts include celebrated performers like Tiësto and deadmau5, who premiered his Cubev3 stage show at the 2019 event.

Downtown Miami was home to Ultra Music Festival from 2001 to 2018 and, aside from a five-year stint at Bicentennial Park, Bayfront Park on Biscayne Boulevard has hosted the event every March. But due to noise complaints and concerns from local residents, Miami commissioners voted unanimously against allowing the festival to return in 2019. The decision gave event organizers just six months to move Ultra elsewhere. The resulting 2019 event on Virginia Key experienced a myriad of logistical issues, particularly concerning traffic.

Rumors that Ultra was speaking to Homestead-Miami Speedway to potentially host the next festival began soon after the Virginia Key event. EEG would be following in the footsteps of electronic music promoter Insomniac after it similarly moved the Electronic Daisy Carnival (EDC) from Los Angeles to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2011.

The 2020 edition of Ultra Music Festival will be held in March at Bayfront Park.

Correction: Details of the license agreement between Ultra Music Festival and the city of Miami, including stage details and closing times, have been corrected.
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Jess Nelson is the 2019 writing fellow for Miami New Times. She was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and is excited to be living close to the water again after moving to Miami from New York. She studied history at UC Berkeley and investigative journalism at Columbia University.
Contact: Jess Nelson