What started out as a fun evening with friends took a tragic turn when the waterfront deck at Shuckers Bar & Grill in North Bay Village collapsed during the Miami Heat game, sending about 100 people tumbling into the water.
As cheers for the home team turned into screams, restaurant workers and patrons alike jumped into the water to rescue the people scrambling in the bay in the minutes before first responders arrived. In total, more than two dozen people were injured, two seriously.
While there were no fatalities, no one will soon forget the shocking images of people floundering in the dark in Biscayne Bay or the aftermath -- a collapsed structure and debris slowly being claimed by Miami's crystal clear waters.
This incident poses another question for Miami government, business owners, residents, and tourists alike. After the dust settles on this accident, what will be the fate of waterfront restaurants in South Florida? Though the area has miles of waterfront land, there are actually few restaurants directly on them. Of the few that are blessed with prime vistas, many of those restaurants boast large wooden patio decks that stretch over the bay -- like Shuckers.
Though it's too soon to tell why the restaurant's deck collapsed, the incident itself could lead to more stringent building codes, higher insurance rates, or a complete moratorium on restaurants building new decks. Though thorough inspections of existing decks would be a wise decision, increased insurance rates (or a complete rebuild of current decks) could cost restaurants millions of dollars.
Though catering mostly to home deck owners, the North American Deck and Railing Association, which has proclaimed May "deck safety month", states that deck failures can be avoided with "regular maintenance and inspection and knowing the limits of the deck structure."
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According to the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, 13.9 million people visited Miami-Dade in 2012, with about 75 percent of them vacationing in our city and on our beaches. The GMCVB also surveys visitors to Miami at airports and shopping centers. When asked what they liked about our city, 25% of responders mentioned our restaurants and dining. Although there are no specific figures regarding whether these people dined outdoors, it's fair to say that most out-of-towners come to enjoy our sub-tropical climate and gorgeous waterfront setting.
For locals, one of the finest things about living in Miami is meeting friends for a few beers and some fish dip on the water as boats and pelicans drift by. Let's hope that this terrible incident serves as a wake-up call for restaurants to have scheduled deck and dock inspections and maintenance -- but doesn't cause municipalities and insurers to panic and put an end to outdoor dining altogether.