After Miami commissioners rejected an agreement Thursday, Ultra Music Festival is in danger of losing its home at Bayfront Park. That's not a new narrative. It was formerly staged in Bicentennial Park, but the construction of Museum Park eventually forced the fest to find a new home. Nobody could have predicted it would return to Bayfront Park, considering Bicentennial was twice as big. However, by taking over a portion of Biscayne Boulevard in addition to the park, it all worked out.
However, if you attended the editions at Bicentennial, one thing was obvious at Bayfront: Space to move from stage-to-stage was scarce. Also, the venue forced Ultra to remain relatively small despite its global brand recognition. Ultra's average daily attendance is 55,000; by comparison, California's Coachella draws 125,000, and Las Vegas' Electric Daisy Carnival attracts 135,000.
So if a last-ditch effort by Ultra's organizers proves unfruitful, perhaps everyone should look on the positive side of the potential move: It could open a new era for the festival, when it could grow into one of the largest dance-music events in the world. And if any festival could pull off such a move, it's Ultra — and South Florida has plenty of room for something more ambitious.
Here are some suggestions for where the next chapter of Ultra could unfold.
Big Cypress Indian Reservation. Miami has been home to many now-defunct music festivals: Bang, Global Gathering, Divine Playground. But it was perhaps Langerado that proved South Florida could sustain an event outside its urban core. Big Cypress Indian Reservation lies in northwestern Broward County, where there are probably more alligators than people. Naturally, because of its remote location, Langerado was a camping festival. Why doesn't Langerado exist anymore? Don't blame the venue. After a memorable 2008 edition, the festival's organizers made the massive mistake of misunderstanding their clientele. In 2009, they announced the fest was moving to Bicentennial Park — and fans did not respond well. In fact, they cited issues such as the urban setting and Miami's expensive hotel rates as reasons to skip the festival. They didn't buy tickets, and that forced Langerado to scrap the 2009 event.
Pros: Because barely any neighbors are around, curfews and noise levels wouldn't be a problem.
Cons: Could Ultra's attendees rough it in the Everglades? Doubtful.
Homestead-Miami Speedway. Ultra's biggest rival is perhaps Insomniac's Electric Daisy Carnival, which takes place every May in Vegas. To prevent attendees from passing out under the hot Vegas sun, EDC runs from 7 p.m. to 5:30 a.m., making it an all-night affair. Taking place at the Las Vegas Speedway, it has 1,200 acres at its disposal. (At Bayfront Park, Ultra had 32 acres.) Though not as large as the Vegas site, the 600-acre Homestead-Miami Speedway could help Ultra grow its footprint while also providing enough of a buffer from the closest homes, which are about a mile away.
Pros: A larger venue could see Ultra grow in attendance and the number of stages.
Cons: There is seriously nothing around here. A couple of miles away, there are motels and inns on South Dixie Highway, but nothing high-end or with the amenities found at hotels in the urban core. There also are not enough rooms to accommodate all of the attendees, meaning if you get stuck staying in downtown Miami, it's a 35-mile trip to the festival.
Hard Rock Stadium. The Miami Dolphins' home turf has already proven it can handle a music festival by hosting events such as Rolling Loud and Jazz in the Gardens. And it used to be home to Ultra's closest local competitor, Life in Color. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross has also made it very clear he's interested in attracting more events that don't revolve around football. Recently, the stadium nabbed the Miami Open from Key Biscayne after promising to build a state-of-the-art tennis complex on its grounds. With Ross hungry for more high-caliber events, a partnership with Ultra would be a perfect match. Plus there's easy access from the highway, making the trip to Miami Gardens manageable.
Pros: The stadium has already proven itself capable of hosting a music festival.
Cons: Because of its county-line location, Miami and Miami Beach hotels would have competition from Fort Lauderdale-area hotels. (This is actually a good thing for consumers but bad for Miami-Dade residents, who benefit from the taxes collected on hotel rooms.) Plus, "South Florida Music Week" doesn't have the same ring to it.
There's also another major obstacle: The Miami Open, which is slated to take place next March 18 through 31, overlaps with Ultra. Perhaps in the future, Ultra could schedule itself around the tournament, but it's unlikely to happen next year because tickets have already gone on sale.
Freedom Park. This would depend upon whether Miami voters approve David Beckham and Jorge Mas' controversial proposal to build a stadium for Miami's MLS franchise at the city-owned Melreese Country Club. The plan is to develop it into a 180-acre soccer paradise complete with retail and office space. Moving Ultra here would mean attendees would have easy access to the Metrorail Airport Station, making travel from downtown a breeze. Also, because the site is located near Miami International Airport, plenty of nearby hotel accommodations are available.
Pros: The venue is still within Miami city limits, and the Airport Station boasts not only a Metrorail stop but also Tri-Rail and several Metrobus routes.
Cons: If voters reject the proposal, this idea is moot. Also, some residents live nearby, particularly along NW 37th Avenue. (However, that issue could be mitigated by staging the event on the far west side of the park, closer to Le Jeune Road.) And even if the proposal were approved, the earliest Ultra could probably move here would be 2020.
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Magic City Casino. Located in Miami's Flagami neighborhood, Magic City Casino is probably the most far-fetched idea — but listen up. The casino spans more than 35 acres and already has built-in venue spaces such as a 2,000-seat amphitheater. It has wide-open parking lots surrounding the main building that would make it easy to set up stages. Plus, some light gambling might make for the right combination. Also, it's an easy trip from downtown and nearby highways. It's also close to the hotels that surround the airport.
Pros: It's a blank slate that would let Ultra do what it does best: build massive custom stages that are as impressive as the acts. Also, as of this past June, the casino no longer offers greyhound racing, so festival-goers could attend guilt-free.
Cons: The site is surrounded by residential neighborhoods. And unlike downtown, where residents are likelier younger and childless, the area has plenty of single-family homes with abuelos and babies who do not enjoy the sensation of rumbling bass.
Honorable mentions: Sunset Cove Amphitheater in Boca Raton and Markham Park in Sunrise have both hosted music festivals. However, those fests are smaller than Ultra, and both venues are far from Miami and offer few nearby hotel accommodations.