After Rowdy Spring Break, Miami Beach May Restrict Party Promoters, Underage Bars

Spring break in Miami Beach
Spring break in Miami Beach Photo by George Martinez
Miami Beach officials got so fed up with spring breakers this year, they deployed officers in riot gear to patrol the beach and parked police vans nearby to haul lawbreaking tourists straight to jail. Now that spring break is winding down, Mayor Dan Gelber is proposing a slew of ordinances that would aggressively crack down on event promoters and on businesses that serve alcohol.

In four measures the city commission will consider tomorrow, the mayor wants to suspend promoters' business tax receipts during "high-impact events" including spring break and Memorial Day Weekend, which draws thousands of mostly black revelers each year for Urban Beach Weekend. He's also proposing to hike the penalties on bars that serve minors and to give the city manager authority to suspend sidewalk café operations and stop nonresidents from parking in city lots.

And Gelber is not the only commission member looking to add more post-spring break regulations — Commissioner Mark Samuelian wants to make it a misdemeanor crime to sell things on public property without authorization. That means police would be able to arrest the coconut and mango peddlers who roam the beach, as well as the amateur python handlers who try to get tourists to pay for photos.

In recent years, spring breakers in Miami Beach have caused havoc, including stampedes, hit-and-runs, and even deadly shootings. City commissioners tried to get ahead of the chaotic season this year with a marketing campaign that essentially told college students to stay away. That definitely didn't work: Thousands of spring breakers arrived beginning the first week of March. Residents soon became apoplectic over beachfront fight videos circulating on social media, and officials responded with riot police and paddy wagons.

Gelber's proposed ordinances, which were first reported by the RE:Miami Beach newsletter, state that the growing number of visitors during spring break, Memorial Day, and other large-scale events "have caused extensive damage, personal injury, property degradation, and have dramatically affected the quality of life of the city's residents." He zeroes in on bars and promoters as partly responsible.

Excessive drinking "creates volatile and dangerous situations throughout the city, that directly leads to criminal activity, conduct and other quality-of-life offenses," says the ordinance that would impose stricter penalties for establishments that serve underage customers. If passed, it would raise the punishment for a business' first-time offense from a warning to a $5,000 fine. The second offense would jump from a $500 fine to a $10,000 fine.

The ordinance restricting promoters, meanwhile, says they often "attract patrons who are underage, engage in disorderly conduct, or violate the occupancy limit of the alcoholic beverage establishment." The city would stop issuing business tax receipts to promoters for any event that occurs over Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Columbus Day, or other high-impact periods. Although Art Basel is almost certainly considered a high-impact event under the city's code, there is no mention of it in the new ordinance.

If the ordinances pass on first reading tomorrow, they would require a second approval before going into effect. 
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Brittany Shammas is a former staff writer at Miami New Times. She covered education in Naples before taking a job at the South Florida Sun Sentinel. She joined New Times in 2016.
Contact: Brittany Shammas