urbin wins approval for its co-work, co-living concept on washington avenue

August 15, 2020
Susan Askew - REMiamiBeach
urbin wins approval for its co-work, co-living concept on washington avenue:construction could begin within a year
Urbin, a co-living, co-work concept, will soon have a location in Miami Beach. This week, the City’s Historic Preservation Board gave the final approval needed for the construction of the brand's proposed six-story co-living and hotel project in the 1200 block of Washington Avenue. The new building will contain 49 co-living units, 56 hotel rooms, and retail and restaurant space. An adjacent 1960s office building will be renovated and restored as a co-work space. It will also contain a wellness center for residents and hotel guests on the first floor, rounding out the brand's live, work, wellness theme.

Rishi Kapoor, founder and CEO of Location Ventures, the developer of Urbin said, “The Urbin thesis is all about bringing inclusion in the urban core and that’s why we spell our brand name U-R-B-I-N."

The goal of the Urbin brand is “to provide affordability, sustainability and mobility to tenants in core urban neighborhoods across the world” starting in South Florida. In a hearing before the Planning Board in February, Kapoor said Urbin will provide a “progressive housing solution” at an “accessible price point.” His vision is to not only provide options for living and working but also wellness. By giving locals an opportunity to live in a neighborhood they couldn’t normally afford, commute times and pollution are reduced, making for a better quality of life, he said.
The new mixed-use building which will replace a one-story retail structure at 1260 Washington Avenue, has street frontage on three sides: Washington Avenue, 13th Street and Drexel Avenue. It sits across 13th Street from the old Post Office.

According to the Historic Preservation Board application, the new building will contain a lobby, two micro-retail units, two restaurants and one outdoor bar counter on the ground floor. The second and third floors of the new structure will contain the co-living and micro-units. Co-living units will vary in size from two bedrooms up to six bedrooms with attached private baths and shared kitchen, living, and laundry areas contained within a suite. Micro-units will have their own private bath, kitchen, and laundry. Outdoor living areas for the residential tenants will be located on the second and fourth levels. The fifth and sixth floors are reserved for the hotel rooms. The roof will contain a pool deck and outdoor bar counter.

The four-story office building located at 1234 Washington Avenue, which will be renovated and restored as co-work space, was constructed in 1961. It was designed by Maurice Weintraub in the Post War
The building at 1234 Washington to be restored

The co-working component includes a micro retail market “catering to boutique retailers that are priced out of desirable areas,” Kapoor told the Planning Board in February. As part of new legislation allowing for the micro-units, Urbin agreed not to take any national brands as a part of its tenant mix. Instead, they will be independent local retailers.

Each Urbin location also has “dedicated space for artists and creatives because you’re seeing people very much priced out of those areas in all of these pockets of South Florida,” Kapoor told the Planning Board. There’s also a small business incubator and a technology incubator. “The goal is we’re not a space that’s just real estate over the head,” Kapoor explained. “We also provide onsite administration, accounting, marketing, and a business coach, that’s all there to sit with the entrepreneur and help them with their business.”

The Miami Beach location will join two others under development, one in Coconut Grove and the other in Coral Gables, though the Washington Avenue project will be the first “Urbin Retreat” with a key differentiator – an extended stay hotel where guests can live and work for months at a time.

Residents and hotel guests will have access to a 5,000 sq. ft. wellness center on the ground floor of the office building. Everyone gets “the whole live, work, wellness package,” according to Kapoor. The bigger vision, he said in February, is to encourage the "freedom to travel" by staying in different Urbin Retreats around the world through membership.

This week Kapoor spoke about the impact of COVID on the economy and the Urbin business model. In economic upswings, he said, “We are the least expensive price of admission to a desirable neighborhood and where [residential] rents are high or office building rents are high.”  

“In an upswing, you’re in an environment where it’s expensive for many people we’re catering to – entrepreneurs, teachers, municipal workers, service workers” – to live in desirable neighborhoods so they end up commuting back and forth. “We’re trying to bring them in… to live, work, feel a part of the fabric of the community," Kapoor said.

In a recession, Urbin’s “topline price is still lower than other comparable living or working arrangements. If we’re already lower in the boom type of environment and now we’re in a recessionary environment, we’ve got room," he added.

His family has experience operating co-work and flex spaces throughout the southeast, he said, and during the 2008-09 recession, “We never dipped below 80% occupancies and that’s because on the work side, people look at flex space as a place to regroup. Maybe they’re contracting their office footprint, or a startup, potentially laid off, potentially working at home.” The flexible workspaces are “a place to go to do your own thing, a place where many businesses start and expand at a manageable expense.”

“We feel like we’re very well positioned for different types of economic cycles and different types of the market and ways they need to respond.”

“As we expand [our] mission, to have 100 locations internationally over the next decade, the objective is to bring inclusionary housing and places to work inside the most desirable submarkets where people are either priced out or they are spending too much of their income on rent,” no matter where the economic cycle is, Kapoor said.

The emphasis on community within the Urbin concept was also important to the approval process. Kapoor and his team worked with the residential neighbors on Drexel Avenue to the west of the project as well as the land use boards to ensure the project was sensitive to noise and design concerns. Ultimately, he said, through the legislative process and Planning Board and Historic Preservation Board hearings, “I’m proud to say… there was not a single 'no' vote and I think that’s a testament to our team trying to be very sensitive to doing a great project but also working with the stakeholders.”

Architect Jacqueline Gonzalez Touzet of Touzet Studio told the Historic Preservation Board (HPB) members this week that based on feedback, the team reconfigured the Drexel Avenue ground level portion of the project to include buffers such as bicycle parking and outdoor conference rooms along with community benefits such as a solar powered charging station where neighbors can recharge their phones in the event of a power outage and a community water filling station that joggers and dog walkers will be able to use.
The view from Drexel Avenue including outdoor conference rooms

Earlier, to gain Planning Board approval, the team added taller sound attenuating walls on the roof, walls to screen parking, a gate to control access from the building to Drexel Avenue, and configured a drop off area within the site itself to minimize the impact of traffic queuing on neighborhood streets. All “active uses” on the property are facing Washington Avenue, Touzet told the HPB. “Everything that happens on the Drexel side is quiet and passive.”

Additionally, the height of the corner tower element on the residential/hotel building was reduced by ten feet and the façade “lightened up” to be “less heavy,” she said.

The new building which is set back 30 feet from Washington Avenue contains a “shady plaza that opens up and frames the view of the Post Office” across the street, she added. The pre-patinated copper façade plays off the roof of the historic Post Office. A cistern will be built under the porch and along with the abundant landscaping contributes to the site’s resiliency.

“A faithful restoration” of the office building includes returning the flagpole in front, restoring the “kidney-shaped pool in front” and recreating the “palm oasis” around the pool that is shown in historic photos, Touzet said.

When the project was initially conceived, the team took into account climate change and warmer temperatures, asking “how do you provide livable walkable streets that people want to spend time on, that people want to sit under,” she said. Now, looking at the new normal “post-COVID,” people will seek out outdoor spaces to eat and work. She said this project could become a model for future development.

“What we were looking for is an urban condition that responds to the architecture, the climate, the historical context but is of its time,” she said of the project.

Satisfied with the revisions since the Board initially saw it, the HPB gave a unanimous approval. Earlier, the Planning Board approved a conditional use permit (CUP) for an Open Air/Outdoor Entertainment Establishment on the ground floor along Washington Avenue and a Neighborhood Impact Establishment with an aggregate occupant content in excess of 200 people.

Kapoor said the team will move immediately into the permitting process which he expects to take 6 to 8 months. “We are hopeful to be able to start construction in the second or third quarter of next year.” He expects to do the renovation of the office building and demolition and ground up construction concurrently.
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Susan Askew - REMiamiBeach

Susan Askew-remiamibeach

February 29, 2020

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber ultimately got the support of City Commissioners for an early end to alcohol sales in parts of South Beach during peak Spring Break, but it’s a lot less than he wanted. After initially proposing a 2 am cutoff for 17 days in March, he won support for a 3 am end time for six days after residents and businesses objected to the longer timeframe. The impacted area is the MXE District which is generally Ocean Drive from 5th to 16th Streets and a portion of the CD-2 Commercial District between Pennsylvania Avenue and Collins Court, from 5th to 16th Streets, which includes Collins and Washington Avenues and Española Way.

Because of Winter Party on the front end and Ultra on the back end of the proposed dates, Gelber condensed the time period down to the days between March 13 and 19, including the St. Patrick’s Day weekend which has been the subject of serious overcrowding the past two years. In 2018, the City had to close the MacArthur Causeway briefly over the weekend due to overcrowding and gridlock.

“I presented this because our law enforcement professionals said we need to do something,” Gelber said. “Since I’ve been mayor, on both weekends we’re talking about in this measure, I’ve gotten calls from two different police chiefs saying that the City is poised to be ungovernable.”

“Public safety drives this debate,” Gelber continued. “I’m sure that a rollback isn’t the silver bullet, in fact it’s not the silver bullet, but it should be in the tool kit.”

“Something really devastating could happen and I don’t want to be the mayor that presides over that,” he said.

“I don’t think we’re going to do it every year… I think we should try it for a period of time.” Noting the objections of local businesses, Gelber said, “I have no interest in gratuitously hurting any business… but on the other hand we have to be mindful of public safety.”

Miami Beach Police Chief Rick Clements said he’s concerned about officer safety. As they have in previous years, MBPD will be on Alpha Bravo staffing – all hands on deck – working 12-14 hour days for 6 days for the entire month. During peak periods, they will be supplemented with officers from Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Miami-Dade County.

With early bar closures, Clements said officers will be less physically taxed. Of the shorter time period, he said, “The entire month of March would have been good for me. I know that’s not realistic.”

Joel Stedman, owner of Twist nightclub on Washington Avenue, told Commissioners, “The number of days doesn’t matter.” He said police would still “be busy 24-7” for all of Spring Break.

“We have zero to do with Spring Break,” Stedman said. “We lost business last year for Spring Break like a lot of people so, truth be told, we’re on the same team here.”

“We agree with ‘tough love’” as a means of dealing with the problem, he said, “But the tough love should not be centered or geared or focused toward my staff.” Commissioners last month signaled a “tough love” approachwhen they nixed nighttime programming as a means of engaging the Spring Break crowd.  

“These guys are going to lose a lot of money,” he said of his employees. “I worry about them. They’re going to lose over $20,000 in wages just at Twist… The business is going to lose tens of thousands of dollars, but I’m more worried about my staff.”

“Show the tough love to the people that are causing the problems, not the businesses trying to operate,” Stedman said. “Your public safety crisis is not inside the clubs, bars, and restaurants. Your public safety crisis is on the streets, sidewalks, and the beaches and that’s where you should focus your tough love.”

David Wallack, owner of Mango’s Tropical Café, echoed Stedman’s concerns. “The businesses are not the issue here and to be horsetrading with hours is only damaging our staffs.”

“The owners will get by,” he said, but he estimated that with the early closure, his night staff “will lose 25% of their income for the week. That’s an electric bill. That’s rent. That’s food for children.”

“Our police are going to be working all day,” Wallack said. “We are not saving any [police] hours by closing the businesses” which will then result in “thousands, literally, from all of our businesses, thousands of people exiting businesses at 2 am. [That] is not going to be a safe situation,” he added.

Commissioner Michael Góngora, one of the “no” votes on first reading, called the proposal “a solution looking for a problem.”

“Our voters voted at almost 65% a little over two years ago not to do what you’re doing over the will of the voters,” he said referring to the referendum to close alcohol establishments citywide at 2 am. The proposal on the table for Spring Break “does not follow what our residents voted for us to do.”

“The huge turnout here today shows that you are punishing innocent people,” Góngora said. “You’re taking money out of their pockets and stopping them from working to the tune of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars just to pass your legislation.”

Commissioner Ricky Arriola, the other “no” on first reading, said, “I think this whole thing is ill conceived. I think it’s embarrassing.”

“I think it’s the wrong approach, the wrong direction for so many reasons,” Arriola said. “Not only does it hurt small businesses that we really need, especially now, it’s inconsistent with our brand. We are a tourist destination whether we like it or not.”

“The kneejerk reaction to cut off the alcohol, it’s such a puritanical mindset,” he said. “Let’s just get rid of it once and for all and realize that the city that we live in and the city that we love does have a strong nightlife component.”

“We’re trying to solve a problem that is largely taking place out on the streets and last year out on the beach,” he noted. “I worry that all we’re doing is pushing people out on the street all at the same time and possibly putting the police officers in danger.” That said, “Out of respect for the Chief” who asked him to reconsider his vote, Arriola said he would vote in favor of the ordinance on second reading.

Góngora said, “The two-hour closure is not tied to any crime statistics.” The statistics presented to him, he said, “show crime occurring much earlier in the evening so there isn’t a legitimate safety concern that’s been laid out by our Police Chief.”

While saying he also respects Chief Clements, he noted the police union doesn’t support early closures “so there is a conflict within the Police Department about whether this is needed and helpful.”

“This only closes these poor business owners. It’s not closing down the city at 5,” Góngora said, echoing concerns that “We’re just pushing a problem from the entertainment district, the area that we’ve zoned to have nightlife and bars and pushing it closer to the residential neighborhoods.”

The vote was 5-2 in favor of the 3 am closure for six days between March 13 and 19. Commissioner Micky Steinberg joined Góngora in voting no.

Commissioners also voted to give City Manager Jimmy Morales the discretion to take actions he deems necessary during the month of March to protect the public health, safety and welfare. Those actions include prohibition of coolers and tents on the beach, implementation of a license plate reader police detail, suspension of sidewalk café operations in the restricted area at midnight, suspension of licenses for promoters of events at alcoholic beverage establishments, and suspension of the noise exemption from 9th to 11th Streets on Ocean Drive.

The most controversial provision when it was brought forward earlier in February was that there be no amplified music on Ocean Drive between the hours of 7 pm and 10 pm. Tom Donall, owner of the Palace, an Ocean Drive staple with its popular drag shows that extend out onto the sidewalk, told Commissioners on first reading that he is fully booked for shows during March. “We do our show from 7 to 11:30 so if you do twelve days of this, this is going to really detriment us and I think the others on Ocean Drive.” Commissioners delayed voting on the resolution until a solution could be found that would allow the Palace shows to go on.

At this week's meeting, the new version of the resolution contained a provision that “any live or amplified music shall be limited to ambient level on Ocean Drive between the hours of 11 pm and 7 am” but that was pulled off the table after objections from businesses who said the hours were randomly chosen, thrown in at the last minute and without consultation.

After the vote, Miami Beach FOP President Kevin Millan said Spring Break is “a grueling, exhausting schedule over a three-week period. Nobody else in any other law enforcement agency or department is asked to do what we do. It’s tiring.”

The Alpha Bravo scheduling has a big impact on families, he said. This year, officers are coming off long shifts for the Super Bowl earlier in the month.

“Over the long term, it’s going to be very unsustainable,” he said. “We have more and more special events coming all the time and we’re really at a tipping point where I don’t know how we’re going to handle them with the workforce that we have. We have 416 police officers which, in certain respects, for certain events is not enough.” He noted weekends like Memorial Day and the Spring Break period where the force needs to be supplemented with outside officers.

“We have officers that are still tired from Super Bowl and we’re rolling right into Spring Break.” When so many hours are worked over long periods of time, Millan said “Accidents go up. Complaints go up. Mistakes get made. Guys get hurt.”

“Regardless of what happened with [the Spring Break] measure, we are working the same schedule,” he said. “We’re going to be working the 12-13-14 hour shifts whether that measure passed or failed.”

Millan said he hopes the City finds a way to program the Spring Break period with something “that follows in the path of an Art Basel which is well established and brings a different crowd to town” and which might allow the Police Department to staff it differently with on-duty and off-duty officers. Then, he said, “If you want to work it you can work it, not that you’re forced to work it. We just want to stop giving up our lives for weeks at a time… We do it because we’re dedicated to the City and to the community” but he noted, again, that “We’re at a tipping point.”
tagsricky arriola jimmy morales micky steinberg dan gelber michael góngora mbpdmiami beach police department spring break david wallack rick clements kevin millanwinter party ultra tom donall joel stedman twist palace mango’s tropical cafémiami beach fop

Miami Beach moving to prohibit peak spring break alcohol sales after 2 am in parts of south beach

Written February 8, 2020

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber wants to put a stop to what he calls “two weeks of unacceptable conditions” during the peak of Spring Break. The City has already created a number of restrictions to tame the rowdy behavior and now he wants to add another – permanently stopping the sale and service of alcohol after 2:00 am for 17 days in March in South Beach’s MXE District and a little further west.

Gelber is sponsoring an ordinance on first reading at Wednesday's City Commission meeting that would place the restrictions on alcoholic beverage establishments located in the MXE (Mixed Use Entertainment) district, generally Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue from 5th to 16th Streets, and a portion of the CD-2 Commercial District between Pennsylvania Avenue and Collins Court from 5th Street to 16th Streets which sweeps Washington Avenue and Española Way into the restrictions. Excluded is the MXE district on Ocean Terrace.

The time period for the restrictions would begin with the first Friday in March and continue for 17 days during what is considered peak Spring Break. In recent years those two weeks have been marked by rowdy, drunk crowds. Last year, the City was forced to take aggressive measures that included sending police in protective gear onto the beach.

Once again, as another Spring Break looms, Miami Beach City Commissioners spent hours debating how to curtail the “anything goes” attitude during the month of March. While most residents, businesses, and elected officials agree on the problem, there is yet to be a strong consensus on a solution.

Commissioners did approve on first reading a measure to roll back the hours of alcohol sales on a limited basis in parts of South Beach during peak Spring Break but it was a less restrictive measure than what Mayor Dan Gelber wanted. For twelve days alcohol sales and service must stop at 3 am on Ocean Drive in the MXE District and in parts of the CD-2 District including Collins and Washington Avenues to Pennsylvania, all from 5th to 16th Streets and Collins Court. The area includes Española Way. Currently, establishments there can serve until 5 am.

Gelber’s initial proposal covered 17 days starting on the first Friday of the month with a 2 am cutoff time but Commissioner David Richardson asked that the dates around Winter Party be excluded. Winter Party, a weeklong LGBTQ celebration, runs from March 4-10 this year.

As amended, the ordinance would go into effect the second Wednesday in March, which this year is March 11, and continue for a period of 12 days. Richardson also proposed the 3 am time. While it passed 5-2 with the amendments, the debate showed how divided opinion is on whether the early morning alcohol service is the problem. The ordinance still needs a second reading on February 26 and may be amended to further reduce the number of days.

During this year’s peak weeks, the second and third weeks of the month, there will be 263 schools and 243 schools out, respectively. In recent years, those weeks in particular have been marked by rowdy, drunk crowds. Last year, the City was forced to take aggressive measures that included sending police in protective gear onto the beach.

Gelber said the proposal “is not a silver bullet to solve the problem… [but] part of the tool kit.” He readily accepted the 12-day amendment but sought to keep the 2 am time until he realized he didn’t have the votes for it. “2 am, 12 days this calendar year, 36 hours total of alcohol sales. That’s it. That’s it.”

“It’s extremely limited, extremely constrained in what it affects,” he said regarding the time and geographic limits.

“This is a moderate constrained response and, frankly, it would be easy to justify something far, far deeper and wider. I urge you to consider it that way,” Gelber told Commissioners. “When your police chief says you need to do this, you should listen to him.”

“Every community that has had this kind of Spring Break has stiff-armed it… all responded in ways very similar to the way I’m suggesting we respond,” he added.

Commissioner Michael Góngora emphasized the City has taken a number of actions since last year’s Spring Break including efforts aimed at stopping the privately promoted parties, stronger penalties for underage alcohol service, and additional powers for the City Manager to take certain actions he deems necessary.

Ceci Velasco, Executive Director of the Ocean Drive Association, said those measures had not yet been applied to a Spring Break though they have worked successfully during Memorial Day and New Year’s Eve celebrations. She urged the City to give those a chance to be used during this year’s Spring Break before resorting to the early cutoff of alcohol sales.

Local businesses say March is a critical month that sustains them through the difficult months. Velasco, told Commissioners, “March carries people over August, September, October. It’s the trickle-down effect.”

Troy Wright, Executive Director of the Washington Avenue Business Improvement District (BID), said, “The businesses are terrified on Washington Avenue. A lot of them have held on for the last several months by a shoestring hoping for this month in order to make money to last moving forward.”

Many of the business owners have spent their life savings on their businesses, he said, “but that is in jeopardy for a lot of them because they know if they are not able to make money for the month of March that most of them will be out of business.”

“I’ve worked and the BID has worked hard to try to create a different environment on Washington Avenue,” he told Commissioners. “We are successful in that the vacancies are down, but we’re concerned because the businesses we’ve reached out to, potential restaurants, are now saying ‘Hold on. Now we’re not sure we really want to come to Miami Beach because if I know for a month out of the year that I’m not going to be able to sell alcohol between X amount of time or after 12:00 pm,’ that could be potentially dangerous for their business and why would somebody want to invest millions of dollars knowing they only get to operate 11 months out of the year. So, it is a concern, not only for Washington Avenue but, like I said, for the people that have invested their life savings here.”

Daniel Danilovic, General Manager of Rockwell Miami, a club at 743 Washington Avenue, is one of those who said the early cutoff would have severe consequences for his business. “I’m not here today to argue the ordinance. I understand where it’s coming from but I’m here to ask that we be excluded from the zone as we are a high-end establishment that caters to local clientele.”

“We don’t cater to the Spring Break crowd,” he said. “We’ve been open for about 4 ½ years. I don’t think that we’ve had a single incident since.”

“Mayor, a little bit ago you mentioned it’s only a few hours for these weeks, about 36 hours that we’re cutting off liquor sales,” Donilov said to Gelber. “Particularly for us, we do about 5% of our liquor sales before 2 am and 95% between 2 and 5 am in our establishment so, for us, that would be a devastating blow and we don’t know how we would continue to do our business after a couple weeks like this.”

In an interview with RE:MiamiBeach prior to the meeting, Gelber said, “There’s no amount of drink sales that are worth what I saw a year ago. There’s nothing on the other side of the scales to me, so we’re gonna do something and I’m all ears to hear the ideas, but hope and optimism is not a policy that I’m prepared to rely on.”

One of the themes of discussion was the City’s “brand” – what it is and how it might be impacted by the early cutoff.

Mango’s owner David Wallack, said, “Our main business is tourism. It’s an international level of tourism. We are loaded with hotels. We are known throughout the world since the ‘30s as the world’s playground and that was what differentiated us from other big tourism communities in the world, our nightlife. It always has been our absolutely defining thing.”

Velasco said, “I think you have to be very careful about the message you’re sending to the tourists around the world: ‘We’re closing down at midnight because it’s not safe to be here’ so it’s a branding message.”

She said the time period also impacts the weeklong Winter Music Conference and Ultra Music Festival. “Our average hotel rate during that time is $350-400… Those are not the people that are in the street with bottles.” Noting the positive Super Bowl experience mentioned by a number of speakers, she said of the music conference attendees, “They’ve already booked. They’re also expecting to be here to have the Super Bowl experience and we’re going to tell them that they can’t.” Its “brand damaging” she said for future bookings.

Góngora said, “I am concerned that the voters voted this measure down, two years ago… and I do recognize that this is for a specific time period that we’re looking at, but the voters looked at this in the same area and shut it down… and, for the residents that think this means the party’s over at 2 or 3 am, it’s really not over because this ordinance only applies to the MXE District... and so the party could still go on on Lincoln Road, Collins Park, inside the hotels. There’s lots of other places that are not impacted by this earlier closure time.”

Richardson, just three months in office, said, “I’m struggling because I just ran a campaign and I had a very, very specific platform that I ran on and I said I want to maintain our brand and that’s a 5 am brand.”

“I’m struggling because, while this is only twelve days, I don’t want it to be interpreted as a test model for the next step,” Richardson said which might be a broader effort to roll back alcohol hours completely. “I’ve got to stay true to the people I represent, to what I said I would support, so I’m struggling with that.”

Some local residents, however, say it’s the “party ‘til you drop” brand that’s the problem.

Carla Probus, said, “We need to shut it down, whatever you can do to shut it down. Residents are now leaving in March. It’s just like Memorial Day. It’s a month of Memorial Day… I’ve seen officers get beat up on the beach at this time. I’ve seen a lot of things on the beach.”

Frank Del Vecchio, responding to statements about visitors who have already booked trips being surprised about the temporary alcohol rollback, said, “There are [also] many, many unsuspecting hotel guests who didn’t know what they were getting into.”

He held up a Spring Break t-shirt from 2010 that he said exemplified all Spring Breaks since. The shirt read, “Spring Break 2010. Party ‘til you puke. Sleep all day, party all night.”

The early closure proposal, he said, “is a singular effort to try to effect that image.” Through good messaging by the City, he said, “[We can] let them know we’re not turning away our tourist industry, we’re trying to contain the worst excesses.”

Mitch Novick, who owns the Sherbrooke Hotel, said “Guests that I catered to for decades no longer return” because of the activity he witnesses and often posts videos of on social media, including drunken behavior and fights. “The image of our city… is one of a party ‘til you drop image which must be changed. The message must be ‘The party is over kids. Find another city to destroy.’” Novick supported the referendum for a citywide 2 am rollback of alcohol sales, which he still advocates for.

Acknowledging the positive Super Bowl images from just ten days ago, Gelber said, “Think about what happened in March and our brand coming from March” referring to the viral social media images of Spring Break fights. “It was one of the worst things our city’s ever had to withstand. I’m happy about the Super Bowl but we need to do this.”

One of the concerns, in addition to Winter Party which was carved out of the time period, is the Winter Music Conference March 16-22 with the Ultra Music Festival on the tail end of that. Richardson hopes to come back to the February 26th meeting with a proposal to shrink the restrictions to an eight-day period on a trial basis to keep Ultra out of the window with the option to extend the restrictions only if necessary. The City’s legal department needs to research if that could be accomplished as it would have to be done under an emergency measure to get around the ten-day period that is required before ordinances take effect.

“I don’t want to shut out the Ultra visitors because I don’t think they typically cause an issue for us,” Richardson said.

“This is very creative,” Góngora responded, “but the way that it’s passing exemplifies the fact that nobody voting for this really thinks it’s that necessary or you wouldn’t water this down in such an odd way.” He said, without certainty, the business community couldn’t plan anything for the Ultra weekend. “So, while this is well intended, it really makes no sense. I think you either do it for twelve days or you do it for eight days and you make the decision now and you live with it.”

What frustrated many of the Commissioners was being two weeks from Spring Break and having a conversation they have had for the past two years.  

Commissioner Ricky Arriola said to City Manager Jimmy Morales, “A year ago you were given very specific direction on how this Commission wanted to handle this year’s Spring Break and that was go forward with programming. We didn’t get a plan until six weeks ago. It was super half baked. You asked us for a $1.5 million amendment to the operating budget for a plan none of us vetted prior to that meeting and it was half baked. We didn’t have any specifics and that’s how we were supposed to handle Spring Break. Because we didn’t get a plan and it was a huge number, we all rejected it,” opting instead to spend $500,000 on daytime programming on the most problematic sections of the beach in an effort to disperse and better control crowds.

“As I understand, the person who was spearheading that effort resigned in protest over this whole fiasco,” he said referring to Matt Kenny, the City’s Director of Tourism and Culture, who gave his notice the day before.

“So now, the only thing we have to actually vote on for Spring Break is a 2 am shutdown,” Arriola said. “None of us feel comfortable that this is going to be an actual solution to the problem. I feel like we were misled. We were manipulated. A year ago we told you what we wanted and you didn’t give it to us. You did not give it to us.”

Morales later said, “No one seemed interested in a big festival, no one came forward” to the City’s request for interest in Spring Break programming.

“I don’t think any of us, maybe with the exception of the mayor, have a lot of confidence the 2 am is going to solve this issue so, part of me, I’m just going to vote no today as a protest because we’re jammed into a situation where the recommendation being made to us is in clear conflict with the direction we gave this administration a year ago,” Arriola said.

Commissioner Micky Steinberg said, “I feel like we’re almost pushed into a corner to do something and it’s not a great feeling… We have been waiting so long for something else to come up. I think we’ve all said that and stated that but here we are now. We can’t cry over what didn’t happen. We need to move forward and figure out what we can do so that everybody has a good time and everybody is safe. With that being said, it is only first reading, so we have time to process and really figure out if we surely, ultimately, want to do this.”

“It’s February 12th. Spring Break is imminent,” Commissioner Mark Samuelian said. “It’s very late for us to have to be doing this.” He suggested a 90-day after action report and “six months after Spring Break that we have a plan for next year. Heaven forbid we’re sitting here a year from now.”

“We do live in a great city,” Samuelian said, “and part of what makes it great is our businesses and I really have great respect for our businesses… What also makes our city great is that everyone is welcome. We are a most diverse and accepting community and there’s just one stipulation: If you come, you gotta play by the rules. Everyone’s welcome if you play by the rules.”

“The current situation we have in Spring Break is unacceptable… When our police chief looks and says, from a public safety standpoint, that he believes in his professional opinion this is what we need to do, then I am willing to try this reduction in hours as part of a holistic approach that we’re taking,” Samuelian said.  

The vote – for 12 days in March, early alcohol cutoff at 3 am, getting an after-action report in 90 days and having a plan for Spring Break 2021 in six months – was 5-2 with Góngora and Arriola opposed. Steinberg said she was a yes “on first reading.”

As initially written, the ordinance would have been permanent but Commissioners agreed to a sunset provision at the end of this year’s restrictions in order to evaluate it and determine any future steps.

“We’re clearly putting our toe in the water, not much more, but that’s okay,” Gelber said.

After the vote, Góngora said, “I don’t want to be in this situation again next year.” He asked for the Administration’s plan in time for the budget planning process that begins in the spring. “Let us know what the plan is for next year’s Spring Break, what programming we have, however much it’s gonna cost so we can include it in the budget process this year and we’re not sitting here in the same place we’re sitting here this year, trying to figure it out at the last moment.”

During the three-hour debate, Commissioners couldn’t agree on additional powers for the City Manager to take during March. While a resolution was passed last month that would allow Morales to implement measures such as closing cafés early and prohibiting coolers, tents and consumption of alcohol on the beach, among other measures, it was not circulated in advance. The version presented at this meeting included the potential for ambient music only on Ocean Drive between the hours of 7 to 10 pm. Tom Donall, owner of the Palace, an Ocean Drive staple with its popular drag shows that extend out onto the sidewalk, said he has “reservations from all over the world” for shows during March. “We do our show from 7 to 11:30 so if you do twelve days of this, this is going to really detriment us and I think the others on Ocean Drive… I am booked every day on those weekends because people are coming from around the world internationally to see a show at the Palace, so it’s very important.”

Commissioners discussed the ability to carve out the Palace from the music restrictions. Morales mulled exempting the drag shows due to the “historically” significant nature of the business which generated protests from other businesses including Mango’s and the Clevelander, which also arguably could be considered “historically” significant. After being challenged on the ability to single out one business over another by Arriola, Morales agreed it would make him “uncomfortable” to do that.

The item with the extended powers was later deferred until the February 26 Commission meeting for further discussion about the impacts of the specific items.

We break down some of the other key questions that will continue to be discussed at that meeting.
does an early cutoff solve the problem?One of the questions raised during public testimony and by Commissioners themselves was if cutting off alcohol sales would solve the problem.

Ray Breslin, head of the Collins Park Neighborhood Association said, when he was in college, “I couldn’t afford to go to the bars. We bought beer and drank on the beach, on the street or in our room. Same thing is happening today.”

The issues Breslin sees are during the daytime. “It’s the overcrowding of our city by a similar age demographic and I don’t know how you’re going to solve that but it’s not by rolling back the bars,” he told Commissioners.

Commissioner Michael Góngora recalled looking at arrest reports after last year’s Spring Break, noting, “The peak prime time was from 7 to 11. They weren’t 2-5.”

Commissioner Steven Meiner, elected in November, is new to the Spring Break discussion. “The issue that I’ve had a tough time grappling with is having some concrete and hard data that the issues that we’ve seen the last couple years are coming from the 2 to 5 am period… I haven’t gotten comfortable with the fact that the impact is happening from those hours.”are spring breakers actually the ones in the venues being impacted?Also new on the dais, Commissioner David Richardson who asked if the patrons of the businesses impacted are actually the Spring Break crowd. He listed what he believes are the three categories of people here during that time: Spring Breakers, hangers-on “who come to join the party locally”, and tourists here for other reasons. David Wallack, owner of Mango’s Tropical Café, said the Spring Break crowd is not in his club but “out on the beach and the streets,” and the hangers-on “are out with the Spring Breakers trying to sell them drugs and start fights.” But, he said, at 10:30 pm, “That entire beach scene is almost gone and you almost don’t have enough people walking down Ocean Drive to even close the street from traffic. That’s how few were actually milling around after 10:30 pm so, really, the problems are not late night.”

Richardson asked Miami Beach Police Chief Rick Clements if the statement was accurate that the Spring Breakers are not in the clubs and, if they’re not, where are they?

Clements indicated one of the biggest problems for police has been the private parties promoted directly to the Spring Break crowd which have been “overpromoted”, creating capacity issues. “That has been a problem for us from a crowd control perspective,” Clements said.

When Richardson asked if that is where the Spring Breakers and hangers-on are and not in the clubs, Clements responded, “I would be guessing if I said yes, but I would say that is probably accurate.”

Richardson noted one of the new ordinances implemented since last year’s Spring Break prohibits business licenses for promoters and special events permits for the private parties. Though there still may be unauthorized parties, Clements said the City would shut those down immediately, if found.
what happens if you push everyone out onto the street at 2 am?Ruben Roberts, President of the NAACP, Miami-Dade Branch, said he understood the Commission’s “wanting to make the community safer, wanting to make sure that the officers are safe,” but, he said, his primary concern was where people were going to go at 2 am. With everyone “out and about walking aimlessly,” he warned Commissioners, “There’s going to be more arrests. For the record, there are going to be more arrests [of] disproportionately African-American people.” He urged allowing businesses to have activations, “activities where they can disperse the crowd” in a more controlled manner.

Resident Stephen Cohen expressed concern about the crowd after 2 am leaving the Entertainment District and spreading out across the City to the privately promoted parties. As part of a longer-term vision, he asked, “How do we get the entertainment back into the entertainment areas?” Doing that, he said, “will make it easier for the cops because right now the entertainment is all over the city.”

James Echols, a resident and event producer, asked, “Is the idea of this proposal to reduce the number of tourists by making it less pleasant to be here? Because if it’s not, you’re going to have exactly what this gentleman [Cohen] said.  We’ll have the same number of people coming except, instead of trickling out of the clubs from 2 to 5, they’ll all be coming out at 2 am. You think anybody’s going to go to bed at 2 am? I mean, really? Were you ever 18? 19? No. Where are they going to go? Across to Alton, to West, to hotel parties across the causeway to buy liquor, come back. You’ll have so many more people driving, so many more people out walking around.”

“Unless the goal, really, is to reduce the number of tourists – which could be a possibility, right? – then you still have the same number of people to deal with but now you’ve got three more hours of the night to deal with them outside,” Echols said.

Asked how the police would handle the crowds leaving at 2, Chief Clements said, “As clubs are vacating, we will move them along with very careful tactics… where they’re going to go after they leave, I can’t answer that question. I don’t know where they’re going to go.”
will this reduce the need for police resources?While voting no on first reading, Arriola said, “If push comes to shove and this is really going to keep our city safe and help our police officers get some rest, then I will support it on second reading, but, Chief, you’re going to be on Alpha Bravo anyway, right? So, it’s not like our guys on the force are going to get more rest, they’re still going to be Alpha Bravo, right?

Responding about the utilization of the Alpha Bravo (all hands on deck) schedule, Clements said officers would still be working 13-14 hour days, six days a week during the Spring Break period with supplemental police resources in the second week of the peak break schedule.
how will the city control the crowds on the beach and coming off the beach?Clements said a few measures were taken last year that proved successful, including eliminating the problem area around 8th Street. Exits were moved to 10th and 15th with crossover areas with police officers to direct pedestrian movement. Barricades to separate the crowd coming off the beach from the sidewalk cafés created a buffer zone to keep the crowds moving from north to south.

He noted the Ocean Drive Association worked with their members to voluntarily lower music volume from 7 to 10 pm. “Instead of congregating in front of one location where music was blaring, the crowed moved around more freely. That was a good thing for us,” Clements said.

And, unlike 2018, he noted, “We didn’t rush the kids off the beach last year which kind of diffused the crowd a little bit.”
what types of “counterprogramming” will there be to give the crowds something to do?While the City tried, unsuccessfully, to generate programming for March 2020 (and 2021), Commissioners authorized $500,000 for daytime programming only to “curate the public beach” to, as Chief Clements said, “take out hot spot area from 7th to 10th Streets.”

The presentation by Bruce Orosz of ACT Productions, the company hired to implement the activations, came at the end of a long day and nearly three hours into the Spring Break discussion.

Arriola who didn’t like what he was hearing about morning beach cleanups, yoga, kickball and DJs said, “We’re a bunch of middle age white people trying to figure out what Spring Breakers want.”

“I want this to be successful and I don’t think this will get us there,” he said.

Part of the plan calls for controlled beer and wine service from 6th to 8th Streets.

David Wallack of Mango’s said being in the business of serving alcohol is very complicated with “so many fake IDs… You’re talking about a mass of people where you would not be able to supervise underage drinking.”

Orosz told Commissioners, “You can literally, suddenly, make it so unattractive you scare off the Spring Breakers… or make it lawful and safe. Let’s make sure we have the programs and assets in place so we can regulate bad behavior.”

Gelber said he was in favor of “anything that takes part of this terrain out of commission [so] the police can be more organized.” Though he said it did concern him in one regard. “Are we trying to repel or are we trying to embrace and say ‘have a good time.’ I worry that the mixed message is there’s no message,” he said.

tagsricky arriola jimmy morales micky steinberg ceci velasco dan gelber michael góngoramark samuelian ocean drive association act productions bruce orosz mbpdspring break david wallack frank del vecchio rick clements mitch novicksherbrooke hotel collins park neighborhood association ray breslin the palacemiami beach police matt kenny spring break 2020 rockwell miami mango's tropical cafésteven meiner david richardson troy wright winter party daniel danilovic ruben robertswashington avenue bid winter music conference ultra tom donall naacp miami-dadestephen cohen james echols carla probus
Spring Break 2019. Photo credit: MBPD

Asked about the business concerns that the real problem is the time when crowds are leaving the beach and the early evening hours rather than 2 am, Gelber answered, “I have been there at all times and I think the problem, more than anything, is that we are inviting a 24-hour party to our city. We’re inviting a 24-hour hard drinking party to the city and whether that manifests at 5 pm or 3 am, it’s the signal we send out… I understand the problem can manifest at different times but it’s letting the world know ‘If you want to party hard for 24 hours and don’t want to worry about rules, come here.’ That can’t be the message.”

“I don’t believe that programming the city alone into other things works either,” Gelber said. “I’m not convinced of that. If we had lots of other programming we would just have lots of other things going on and it would be even more difficult.” At last month’s meeting, Commissioners rejected a proposal for a full month of day and nighttime programming during the month of March, opting instead to start small with daytime events only.

“We’ve got to send a very specific message to people who want to come here and do things they wouldn’t ever think of doing in their hometown," Gelber said. "If you’re coming here to go crazy, don’t come here. We don’t want it. We’re not going to tolerate it. Lots of other people will sell you drinks. We will not.”

“I’m the mayor. I’m responsible, ultimately, for what happens and I can’t let what happened a year ago, happen again so I’m trying lots of differcent things and this is just one of those things,” he said. “I don’t think I’m doing it with a broad brush… It’s 17 days, 2 am and, hopefully, that will help tamp down this very unacceptable behavior.”

Regarding the economic implications, Gelber said, “This is pretty binary for me and that is what we have is utterly unacceptable. There’s nothing about the current experience that we can or should promote or maintain. I don’t see this as ‘Well let’s just cross our fingers. Let’s just put more police in riot gear or tell our residents to leave town for a month.'’’

“There’s no amount of drink sales that are worth what I saw a year ago,” Gelber emphasized. “There’s nothing on the other side of the scales to me, so we’re gonna do something and I’m all ears to hear the ideas, but hope and optimism is not a policy that I’m prepared to rely on.”“there’s no amount of drink sales that are worth what i saw a year ago."
Meanwhile, on Friday the Ocean Drive Association (ODA) played another card saying the ordinance, if passed, is not enforceable. Alex Tachmes, a partner with Shutts & Bowen who represents the ODA, delivered a letter to City Attorney Raul Aguila in which he said the ordinance represents a change to the permissible uses in the MXE zoning district that can only be accomplished by an amendment to the City’s Land Development Regulations (LDRs). That means the City would have to follow "all the necessary procedures for an LDR amendment, including a 5/7 vote and review by the Planning Board.” As a result, Tachmes said, the item “is legally insufficient to amend the hours of alcohol sales in MXE and, if passed by the City Commission, will be of no force or effect.”

He points to previous actions of the City to back up his argument. “During the mayoral term of Mayor [Philip] Levine, the City attempted to prohibit liquor sales after 2:00 a.m. in MXE, just like it is doing here,” he wrote to Aguila. “However, in that circumstance, City Staff attempted to achieve the liquor sale restrictions through an amendment to the LDR’s. Therefore, the City’s own actions in the past confirm that an amendment to the zoning code is the only legal way to prohibit alcohol sales in MXE.”

In the language to approve the ordinance, the City states it is “within the police power and [statutory] authority for a municipality to change the hours of regulation of alcoholic beverages.”

Tachmes disagrees. “[T]he Florida Supreme Court has noted that a city cannot circumvent the protections accorded in a zoning code for a property owner by labeling an ordinance an exercise of its police power.” Tachmes is asking for the ordinance to be withdrawn.

Wednesday’s meeting is the first reading of the ordinance. In order for the legislation to take effect in time for Spring Break, second reading will be February 26.  Ordinances take effect ten days after passage. Details of the item can be found here.

Susan Askew is a writer for re Miami Beach - susanaskew@remiamibeach.com