Miami Beach Hopes Self-Taxing District Will Rein in Ocean Drive Restaurants

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Since July, City of Miami Beach officials and Ocean Drive property owners have been working on a plan to tidy up the iconic art deco thoroughfare into something better than a neon-lit vomit-and-drug-baggie receptacle. 

Yet in order for there be any hope for the laundry list of changes — which includes a self-taxing business improvement district — to become law, the city and Mayor Philip Levine must first back off their effort to pare back closing times from 5 to 2 a.m., some business owners say.

"We could all be put out of business, so that needs to be taken off the table," said Mango's Tropical Cafe owner David Wallack. "If they're going to cut us to the bone, why would we vote to enact a tax?"

The 13-page plan began in July when the city asked Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola to work with Ocean Drive property owners to devise a way to fix the problems that have long plagued the street.  "It's become a scene of chaos and crime, from prostitution and drug dealing to muggings," Levine told New Times in August. "The story goes out all over the world. How do you quantify the cost of negative advertising that is for the brand of Miami Beach?" In 2015, robberies climbed 13 percent, and burglaries jumped 39 percent over the previous year.

The slew of new regulations, which had been slated to go before commissioners Thursday but will be delayed until October because of the Zika outbreak, include a lengthy gathering of changes for Ocean Drive restaurants, which are often and deservedly the county's most derided.

Among the changes:

  • Restaurants must move furniture to the west side of the sidewalk to "remove the 'gauntlet' or 'tunnel' effect that currently exists on the street."
  • Roll-down tarps would be allowed to come down only when it's raining.
  • Chain restaurants would be prohibited on Ocean Drive, although existing ones would be grandfathered in.
  • "Real and artificial food and beverage displays, including 'ghost drinks' placed on tables to attract attention of patrons, will be prohibited on public property and will be prohibited on private property to the extent such displays are visible from a public sidewalk or street."
  • Food and drink prices must be listed clearly on every restaurant's menu. 
  • Customers must be alerted to any automatic gratuity or service charge that will appear on their bill. It must be noted in a conspicuous manner on the menu, the bill, and the credit card charge slip. "Patrons also must be notified verbally by restaurant staff prior to or simultaneously with the provision of the bill."
  • "Ocean Drive cafe workers would also be required to undergo third-party hospitality training within thirty (30) days of commencing work at any sidewalk cafe venue on Ocean Drive and to undergo refresher third-party training annually. The company or person providing the training must be approved by the Ocean Drive Association."

The plan also outlaws adult-entertainment venues attached to any cafés while drastically increasing the fines for those restaurants that hire hawkers to stand outside with their menus and try to entice passersby in to enjoy an endless happy hour. The $50 first offense would be increased to a whopping $1,000, a second offense would cost $2,000, and a third $3,000.

Street vendors and promoters would also see their end of days. "They clog the sidewalks, harass tourists, deal drugs, litter the streets, and block entrances to businesses," Arriola's plan said. "Accordingly, they should be banned from Ocean Drive."

Mayor Levine wouldn't say outright whether he plans to back off his ordinance that would reduce Ocean Drive businesses' operating hours in exchange for this plan. He did, however, agree to push a vote on it back to October while the city tries to manage the growing spread of Zika that for the moment seems to have overshadowed Ocean Drive's problems.

"We want to see Ocean Drive be reformed aggressively and immediately, and I think that decision is going to be up to the Commission," Levine said. "I have an open mind."

For more, follow Zach on Twitter or Instagram.

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