This year's spring break was one of the most contentious in Miami Beach history. For starters, the city saw a 33 percent increase in crowd size from 2018 despite an expensive marketing campaign aimed at fending off spring breakers. Police donned riot gear and parked prison wagons on the sand to haul miscreants off to jail. Critics accused city leaders of targeting black tourists in the crackdown.
With six months to go until next year's spring break, city officials are hurrying to make plans to "fix" the "situation." After rejecting a plan to recruit Ultra Music Festival for 2020, commissioners are considering a partnership with Live Nation to program a series of concerts throughout March.
Last week, the commission tentatively agreed to spend $1.5 million to build a giant beachfront stage for the shows (as first reported by RE:MiamiBeach blogger Susan Askew). Live Nation is apparently in negotiations with Jimmy Buffett and Pharrell Williams to perform in Miami Beach during spring break.
"Jimmy Buffett and Kygo want to play the beach. They're touring right now," the city's tourism director, Matt Kenny, said at the September 11 commission meeting. "And then another huge, huge win would be Pharrell, [who] does a festival in Virginia Beach. It was so successful that he wants to bring it to Miami Beach but has nowhere to do it. So it's pretty much, in my opinion, sitting there waiting to be done."
But the partnership with Live Nation seems to be less about the music and more about pushing out a certain type of tourist. Kenny explained the city would build the stage "on the beach where the biggest problem is."
"So we're going to take up that space to displace any issues on the beach," he told commissioners.
Later in the meeting, he made his point more explicitly.
"I think given the challenges we've faced the last few years, $1.5 million is worth it just to build a site that won't let these kids access that area on the beach," Kenny said.
There's also the question of the performers being recruited by the city. Buffett clearly attracts an older, wealthier, mostly white crowd, which seems to be what city leaders want.
"[A] Jimmy Buffett concert is 20,000 people, easy," Commissioner Ricky Arriola said at the meeting. "It's a destination show. People will come in for that."
The discussion echoed a conversation earlier this year when commissioners and business owners said they were looking for visitors who "enjoy fine dining and fine entertainment" and "top-tier paying tourists... coming here to attend A-list events."
Funding for the beachfront stage would come from the city's resort tax, which is paid by hotel guests. The city already plans to spend $4 million on policing during spring break.
As of now, no plans have been finalized with Live Nation. Kenny said he would return to the commission with an update at its next meeting Wednesday, September 25.
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