David Smiley, Miami Herald, December 8, 2011
Six months after a deadly Memorial Day shooting sparked calls to end Miami Beach’s annual holiday street parties, proposals to pacify both the crowds and the community are taking shape.
On one hand, city administrators are now saying local laws will be strictly enforced this May after several years of tolerating minor offenses such as public drinking.
On the other, business leaders–less than enthused with the idea of enduring the same raucous scenario every Memorial Day weekend–continue to court concert promoters to rebrand Urban Beach Week.
“If we do nothing and something terrible happens, you’ll have people standing in front of City Hall screaming for heads,” said Joshua Wallack, chief operating officer of Mangos Tropical Cafe. “We need to be proactive.”
An unofficial amalgamation of private club parties and street festivities, Urban Beach Week has drawn hundreds of thousands of tourists and day-trippers to South Beach every Memorial Day weekend since 2001.
The parties have been controversial since their inception, when the city was caught off guard and near riots broke out. While some businesses prosper unlike any other weekend, others shutter due to lack of sales or chaotic behavior. Many South Beach locals say they leave town.
In response, the city plans to direct a massive Memorial Day weekend police force to end tolerance of “minor” offenses, such as possessing an open container in public.
As for taking a zero tolerance position, the recent softer approach to enforcement began after the city was roundly criticized in 2006 by the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP following the arrests of more than 1,000 people.
But some business owners can’t live with the same event each year, regardless of enforcement tactics.
During Tuesday’s Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce Board of Governor’s meeting, Jason Starkman, owner of Jerry’s Famous Deli, said he will not open his restaurant this Memorial Day Weekend unless something is done to drastically change an event that he says brought bat and knife-wielding patrons into his restaurant this year.