Ultra Music Festival

Commissioner Keon Hardemon Wants to Bring Ultra Music Festival Back to Bayfront Park

Ultra Music Festival 2019 in Virginia Key.
Ultra Music Festival 2019 in Virginia Key. Photo by Daniella Mía
Just when you thought the drawn-out soap opera between the City of Miami and Ultra Music Festival had reached its finale, Commissioner Keon Hardemon is staging an encore. Hardemon has sponsored a resolution to negotiate the return of Ultra to Bayfront Park, its longtime home until this year. The resolution will be discussed at a commission meeting Thursday, June 27.

The deal would require Ultra to pay the city $2 million to stage its fest at the park and shortens its setup time to one month. The one-year proposal would be renewed annually, and only a unanimous vote of the commissioners could end it. (Not that that's an especially high bar; the vote to boot Ultra from Bayfront in the first place was also unanimous.)

Here's the catch: Ultra has to agree to return to Bayfront Park in the first place. And after enduring the past year of insults and mismanagement from city officials, it's hard to imagine festival organizers will be wooed back.

Led by Commissioner Joe Carollo, the city commission voted to deny Ultra's Bayfront Park agreement in September last year. At the meeting, Carollo, who had himself drafted the agreement while working with Ultra and the Downtown Neighbors Alliance (DNA), complained that the music Ultra plays is "thump-thump-thump" and belittled his opposition, including Commissioner Ken Russell. Members of the DNA have also voiced complaints that the festival brings drugs into downtown and that it takes over Bayfront Park for too long in order to set up.

Yes, Ultra's 2019 edition in March suffered from logistical failures, notably transportation issues that forced festivalgoers to walk back to the mainland across the Rickenbacker Causeway. A return to Bayfront might seem to promise a return to the festival's traditionally smooth-running operations.

Making concessions such as a shortened setup time could compromise those plans, though. And more significant, Ultra organizers know they can't depend on the support of the city when it comes to details outside the scope of the city's new proposal, including logistics. After all, when Ultra's 2019 plans for details such as transportation were still unannounced weeks before the festival was scheduled to begin, it was easy to imagine that in-fighting among neighborhood associations and political scheming among commissioners were part of the problem. After the now-infamous "Ultra 5K," it was easy to know whom to blame

Ultra has remained quiet since its announcement that it planned to leave Miami for its 2020 event. We don't know the details of the proposals brought by other Miami-Dade cities such as Homestead and Hialeah. Who knows — if commissioners agree on the Bayfront plan, maybe Ultra will decide that's actually its best option.

Still, the City of Miami made a bold statement with its decision to boot Ultra from Bayfront last year: essentially, that the interests of real-estate developers and their wealthy clients outweigh the economic and cultural benefits offered by one of the world's largest music festivals. Nothing in the city's new proposal indicates those priorities have changed.

If commissioners agree on the deal next week, it'll be Ultra's call: to become the headlining act in a new city or to share the stage with Miami's unreliable power players.
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Ciara LaVelle is New Times' former arts and culture editor. She earned her BS in journalism at Boston University and moved to Florida in 2004. She joined New Times' staff in 2011.
Contact: Ciara LaVelle