Ultra Music Festival

New Lawsuit Alleges City of Miami Violated Its Own Charter to Move Ultra Music Festival

Weeks before the gates to Ultra are due to open on Virginia Key, another lawsuit questioning the music festival's legitimacy has been filed in federal court.

The Brickell Homeowners Association and Miami resident Christopher B. Mullin allege the City of Miami misrepresented its agreement with Ultra as a license, rather than a lease, to sidestep the competitive bidding process required by the city charter.

"Virginia Key is an utterly inappropriate venue for Ultra," David Winker, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, says in an email. "The City of Miami circumvented its own laws and disenfranchised its own citizens to force this deal through — a deal that is a disaster for the environment and our residents."

According to the complaint, the city, which owns the property where Ultra plans to stage its 20th-annual festival March 29 through 31, is required to follow a set of steps before leasing that land to a private entity. Those steps include advertising the opportunity for such a lease, waiting 90 days for proposals to roll in, and gathering at least three proposals. In granting the land to Ultra, the suit says, the city did none of those things.

That's because Ultra's agreement with Miami isn't categorized as a lease. Instead, Ultra is operating under a license, which requires less red tape.

But the Brickell HOA's suit says Ultra's agreement is a license in name only. It points out that standard hallmarks of a license, including the city's ability to cancel it at will, are not part of Miami's agreement with the festival.

Ultra Music Festival did not immediately return New Times' requests for comment. A representative of the City of Miami said only, "We are reviewing the complaint and will defend the city’s interest.”

According to the Miami Herald, the license-versus-lease tactic was first raised last year by downtown residents trying to remove Ultra from Bayfront Park. City commissioners rejected an agreement to keep the festival at Bayfront before the idea evolved into a legal complaint.

This isn't the first legal action to come out of Ultra's uprooting from its former Bayfront Park home. Last month, Rapture Music Festival, a smaller event scheduled to take place on Virginia Key the same weekend as Ultra, filed a suit claiming the older electronic music fest had violated antitrust laws. A judge dismissed that complaint
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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