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Defending Ultra: Keep the Festival Downtown

Defending Ultra: Keep the Festival Downtown
Anthony Djuren/Courtesy of Ultra Music Festival

Is everyone done with the pearl clutching about Ultra Music Festival? We get it: EDM is Satan in musical form. And if you'd believe Mayor Tomás Regalado and City Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, Ultra is the ninth circle of hell.

The reality is Ultra deserves some credit, and although there are some problems that need to be addressed, city leaders shouldn't make such irresponsible statements before a thorough investigation has been completed into the tragic trampling of security guard Erica Mack at the hands of a gang of gatecrashers.

"If you want to say Ultra has outgrown the space [at Bayfront Park], that's a valid argument, but to say it's overstayed its welcome is a slap in the face," says Cocaine Cowboy filmmaker Billy Corben.

Although perhaps a bit inflated, Ultra reports "the economic impact generated from the six day event in 2013 was over $223 million." According to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, the hotel occupancy rate during March 2013 was 89.1 percent while the yearly average was 79.9 percent. It's safe to say Ultra probably has something to do with that.

"It's important because it serves as a catalyst to bring people to Miami," says Aramis Lorie, operating partner of downtown nightclub Grand Central.

There is no argument that what happened to Mack, who was severely injured, is inexcusable. While Ultra tried to shift the blame exclusively to the perpetrators, that doesn't appear to be entirely the case. Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa claims the department warned the festival that fencing was too flimsy.

Still, this incident isn't reason enough to pull the plug on Ultra.

Long before downtown Miami was filled with condos and residents, Ultra was there, showcasing the city to the entire world. Ultra's best feature has also been the one giving it the most problems: its location.

Though most major music festivals happen at remote sites, Ultra takes place in a city's downtown core. The economic impact is felt throughout the city.

Then there are the drugs. if you believe Sarnoff's assertion that everyone is high at Ultra. That's simply not true. Are drugs a problem at Ultra? Yes. But they are a problem at every other major music festival.

Another thing that should be addressed is Ultra's all-ages policy. It's time to end it. Make the festival 18 and over. Or even better, make it 21 and over.

And let's talk about that ticket price: The festival has the right to charge $399 plus fees. Space at Bayfront is tight, and production and artist costs are much higher today than when Ultra started. However, had organizers introduced the ticket layaway plan from the beginning, more people might have felt that they could manage the bill — instead of resorting to jumping fences.

If we are also going to spread the blame, though, some responsibility must fall on the City of Miami's shoulders, because it has failed time and again to provide residents with a sizable park space comparable to New York's Central Park.

It's embarrassing that Miami continues to tout itself as a metropolitan city but puts so little value on green space.

Miami is in no position to shoo away Ultra just yet, and Regalado and Sarnoff should consider the downsides. Miami needs to work better with the festival, instead of acting like the hostile landlord it's been the past few years.


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