Ultra's first night at its new home on Virginia Key ended with thousands of people making the three-mile journey across the Rickenbacker Causeway on foot — a trek so long it inspired some truly funny "Ultra 5K" memes. Then there were the two fires started by firework displays.
But to hear Miami city officials tell it, things were pretty hunky-dory overall. They're already counting on the festival returning to the island next year.
In a preliminary recap sent Monday to Mayor Francis Suarez and city commissioners, City Manager Emilio Gonzalez stated that Ultra "had issues" managing the first night's mass exodus and also experienced a couple of brushfires. On the whole, though, the event "proceeded relatively smoothly, considering the time constraints and the event organizer's unfamiliarity with the location," he wrote in his letter, which comes ahead of a discussion about the festival scheduled on Thursday's city commission agenda.
"The City is confident that when the event returns to Virginia Key next year, additional operational enhancements and resources can be implemented to further improve transportation and noise mitigation," Gonzalez continued.
That the city apparently sees Ultra's return to Virginia Key as a given will not please Key Biscayne leaders. During a meeting Monday night, village officials and residents complained that the venue isn't the right fit for Ultra and its thousands of attendees. They passed a resolution to voice their concerns to Miami officials Thursday and to ask for reimbursement for Key Biscayne's financial hit.
Councilman Ignacio Segurola called Ultra "a disaster."
"I don’t think we should ask the City of Miami and Ultra to not return — I think we should demand that they not return," he said. "I think that the county and the city need to know that this is unacceptable."
Key Biscayne Mayor Michael Davey also discussed the possibility of a lawsuit.
"I’m not saying we should be saying we’re going to litigation right away, but I think we leave all options on the table," he said.
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Ultimately, Key Biscayne has no authority over the event: The Virginia Key site used by Ultra is owned by the City of Miami. The festival's agreement with the city is revocable; however, Gonzalez's four-page letter suggests the city is so far satisfied with the event's new location.
After the chaos of the first night's exit, Gonzalez wrote, multiple agencies met and mapped out a contingency plan that made the second and third nights run more smoothly. Meanwhile, the 368 police officers on hand made 37 arrests and handled 13 disturbance calls. Two hundred Miami Fire Rescue personnel responded to 281 EMT calls. Though 36 noise complaints came in over the weekend, Ultra stayed within its 110-decibel limit.
From an environmental perspective, Gonzalez said the organizers properly blocked off sensitive areas and the fencing appeared to minimize impacts to wildlife. There were no reports of damaged natural areas, and trash seemed to be picked up in a timely fashion.
Final reports on the festival are still being completed and will be released when they're done.