Miami Beach Debates Whether to Shut Down Ocean Drive Liquor Sales at 2 a.m.

Update 10 a.m.: The commission passed Levine's ordinance, voting to send it before voters for approval in November.

After another Memorial Day weekend marred by gunshots, a stabbing, and a fatal police shooting, Miami Beach politicians' responses ran the gamut from straight-up racist to deeply misguided to reactionary. This morning, the city will debate where exactly on that spectrum falls Mayor Philip Levine's call to roll back drinking hours on Ocean Drive from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m.

Dozens of residents and business owners are already lining up in the commission chambers this morning to push back on the plan, which they argue will kill a key piece of South Beach's freewheeling tourism economy.

Rafael Velasquez, a real-estate broker and activist running for commission, helped organize a group planning to blast the plan this morning. He says he was living on Ocean Drive 12 years ago, the last time the commission tried to roll back drinking hours, and fought the movement then too.

"Our mayor back then told me that I would change my stand once I am married and have children," Velasquez says in an email. "Well, I am married and have children now, but my stand has not changed! Let the people party until 5 a.m.!"

That's not the message Levine will bring to the commission this morning. Levine held an "emergency press conference" last week to announce his plans: A crackdown on noise violations, street tables, and — most dramatic — a rollback of drinking hours. (Levine also got into a shouting match with David Wallack, the longtime owner of Ocean Drive mainstay Mango's Tropical Cafe, in which the mayor inexplicably yelled, "Go get a job!")

To Levine's credit, the plan at least suggests that the crime problems along Ocean Drive are year-round and mostly driven by the booze-soaked party culture on the iconic beachfront stretch.

That stands in stark contrast to the responses from mayoral hopeful Commissioner Michael Grieco, who lashed out at Urban Beach Week, the unofficial and mostly black gathering of tourists during the holiday weekend. Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez even more bizarrely demanded that the city "give the cops back their bullets" (right after a cop fatally shot a suspect) and take away their body cameras.

But Levine's plan has also faced plenty of pushback for a simple reason: Ocean Drive, for all its faults, is the beating party heart of a city built on year-round tourism. Clubs such as Mango's have been drawing business to the block for decades.

That's Velasquez's point too. "We need to respect the character of our city and realize why we fell in love with it in the first place," he writes. "Tourism is the driving force of our economy that made Miami Beach. Although I am older, fatter, and grayer today, I still believe this is South Beach, and people come here to party from all over the world!'"

Venerable New Times alum Kyle Munzenrieder might have put the argument best in 2015, the last time Levine tried to change Ocean Drive's closing time to 2 a.m., in an article headlined "Keep Ocean Drive Tacky":
So sure, Ocean Drive might need some updates and changes, but trying to erase its history won't get us anywhere. We can't pick and chose what kind of tourists visit Miami Beach and what they do while here. Who are we, Donald Trump? Is Miami Beach going to build a wall on the MacArthur Causeway and make sure tourists are "refined" and "classy" before being allowed in?

Ocean Drive is what it is and what it always will be, and anyone thinking it can be turned into some generic Florida beachside is fooling themselves. 

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink