But over the weekend, the City of Miami Beach commandeered the courts to begin prepping the area for Super Bowl LIV. Although the big game is still more than three weeks away, city officials say it was necessary to boot the volleyball players in order to accommodate a broadcast studio for Fox Sports.
"Fox Sports will be broadcasting live for 12 to 14 hours per day starting a week before the Super Bowl, which is expected to garner millions of views with iconic Ocean Drive as the backdrop," says Melissa Berthier, a spokesperson for the city. "We've been told it's the largest setup Fox has done for any Super Bowl."
Naturally, the local volleyball community is not happy about the situation. Willie Arteaga, a participant who acts as a liaison between the players and the city, says he was informed only in mid-December that the courts would be taken out of service.
"[This] had been in the works for about a year. They were just waiting for the permit to be approved," he says. "We understand it's a big event for the city, but they should have told us at least."
Until just a few years ago, the volleyball players say, the city's special events department would regularly take over the courts for concerts and other major events. When the courts were returned to the volleyball community, the players often found dangerous debris in the sand.
"Every time we'd get our courts back, there'd be nails in the ground, wooden planks in the floor. There were multiple times you could smell gas in the sand," says Brandon Lozano, a Miami Beach resident who began playing volleyball in Lummus Park as a teen and later met his future wife on the courts. "We have kids and people of all ages diving on the courts. It's not a safe environment for them."
"They are laying a black tarp on the sand, which will then have the flooring go on top. This is to help catch anything that could potentially fall through the sand," Berthier wrote in an email to New Times.
Beyond the potential physical hazards, however, the volleyball players say the event takeover represents a breach of trust on behalf of the city. In May 2017, Arteaga and Lozano say, the volleyball community met with city officials to protest an event that would have taken the courts out of service for three months. At the meeting, they say, a city employee made a verbal promise that Miami Beach would no longer make use of the sand volleyball courts for special events.
For more than two years, the city kept that promise, according to the players. So in mid-December, when Arteaga learned the courts would be taken down ahead of the Super Bowl, he was disappointed the city would not be keeping its word. Lozano says he felt lied to.
"We wanted to believe they would uphold their promise, and they didn't," Lozano says.
In response to an email complaint from Lozano, City Manager Jimmy Morales called the Super Bowl an "extraordinary event" and said the city commission strongly supported Miami Beach's participation in the festivities.
"My staff and your members, I am certain, will make sure we hold the NFL and Fox to their commitments," Morales wrote.
In the meantime, the volleyball players are using two courts on 12th Street — the only ones that remain open out of 22, according to Arteaga — and waiting for temporary courts they say the city promised them.
"The event is happening, and now we're fighting for some sort of policy or city ordinance that could prevent this again in the future," Arteaga says.