Seven Months After Ocean Drive Cleanup Plan, City Argues Over Whether It's Curbing Crime

Seven Months After Ocean Drive Cleanup Plan, City Argues Over Whether It's Curbing Crime
Photo by chensiyuan via Wikimedia Commons

Last fall, as Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine decried Ocean Drive as a "disgusting, terrible place," he tasked Commissioner Ricky Arriola with coming up with a plan to fix it. Among the recommendations were more police, fewer umbrellas, and a crackdown on open containers.

Seven months later, the Beach is still torn over whether the iconic but troubled strip has turned the corner thanks to Arriola's ten-point improvement plan. At last night's commission meeting, Ocean Drive business leaders applauded the effort, saying police had cracked down on drug dealers and made the street a safer place for tourists and residents. But detractors like Mitch Novick, the outspoken owner of the nearby Sherbrooke Hotel, say the results are disappointing.

"The news just from the past five weeks is very clear," he says, pointing to stories about a shooting, a stampede, and a hit-and-run. "They're trying to paint a picture that's not reality."

But it's clear there have been several notable changes on Ocean Drive since the plan went into effect last year. Two squads of 12 officers now roam the street from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. seven nights a week, while two park rangers have been patrolling Lummus Park across the way. With four exceptions, the giant umbrellas that had formerly created a tunnel-like "gauntlet" have been removed from the sidewalk. The city's public works department has been pressure washing the streets daily and adding more lighting to nearby alleyways.

Seven Months After Ocean Drive Cleanup Plan, City Argues Over Whether It's Curbing Crime (3)
Ocean Drive Improvement Association

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Event planners have also been working with the city to host more family-friendly events, according to Ceci Velasco, a former vice president of operations at Mango's who is now heading the Ocean Drive Improvement Association.

"We represent the city on a global and national level," she said Wednesday. "We are a global brand and we have a responsibility."

Online reviews of Ocean Drive, which Velasco said were improving, are still a mixed bag, though. Visitors have pointed to the loud music, drug activity, and overpriced restaurants as areas of concern, though the street remains TripAdvisor's seventh best thing to do in Miami Beach, following the Holocaust Memorial.

Novick believes the "crisis" won't be solved until commissioners tackle the noise issue.

"The businesses are not bad per se, they've just abused the public right-of-way to blast their loud, obnoxious, and vulgar music," he says. "After over two years of me saying, 'Hey look, it's the noise,' they still throw $2 million at police to no improvement and look at me like I'm from Mars because I talk about noise."

His one concession? The street has definitely been nicer without the gauntlet of umbrellas.

"Hey, that's an improvement, but public safety is paramount," Novick says. "I'm an optimist. This can't sustain itself."


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