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Ocean Drive South Beach
Photograph: Shutterstock/Tono Balaguer

South Beach’s late nights of clubbing and loud parties could be over permanently

Miami Beach mayor Dan Gelber proposed an overhaul of South Beach and its entertainment district.

Virginia Gil
Written by
Virginia Gil

Even during a pandemic, people find a way to party in South Beach. Recently, we’ve seen countless Instagram videos of women twerking on convertible cars, full-on brawls taking place on Ocean Drive and the sands crowded with what appears to be mostly tourists. (It’s a well-known fact that locals—especially mainlanders—hardly ever go to the beach.) While South Beach loves and still thrives on its out-of-towners, plans are in the works to attract a different type of visitor to the neighborhood.

On Wednesday, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber revealed a proposal that would transform the city’s entertainment district into an arts and culture hub. Lately, the mixed-use entertainment district (MXE for short) has not been on brand with the image fostered elsewhere in the city. South Beach has become a “beachfront Bourbon Street, where too many people go to do things they would never do in their own homes,” said Mayor Gelber, adding that most of the victims and perpetrators of crimes reported tend to be visitors.

The MXE comprises tourist hot spots like Ocean Drive and Washington and Collins Avenues, where the majority of businesses are bars, clubs and restaurants that stay open late and contribute to the general raucous we’ve been watching play out. Gelber, together with a group of commissioners and experts, conceived a new vision that would rename the area the Art Deco Cultural District or something similar that reflects the area’s status as a true art and culture destination. The plan would significantly alter the character and even the architecture of South Beach with the additional proposed changes:

–Create new zoning laws. There will be an overhaul of the current zoning laws to establish the kind of business climate Miami Beach would like to foster. This includes prohibiting establishments from serving alcohol past midnight (there are more than 100 businesses that presently serve booze from 2am to 5am) and requiring them to pull conditional use permits (CUP) should they want to open and serve booze later. A CUP hinges on compliance, so officials can require a level of conduct they wouldn’t otherwise with a perpetual license. “If [businesses] refuse to comply, they can lose their rights because [the permit] was only conditional,” said the mayor.

–Hold operators responsible. Gelber hopes the city can partner with buildings and owners to make them aware of what’s happening in their establishments. Moving forward, they’ll be held responsible for violations and fines.

–Motivate cultural growth. The new district will explore incentives to inspire the growth of more galleries and museums and businesses that promote the arts. According to Gelber, venues like the Wolfsonian–FIU are examples of institutions making effort to expand their cultural footprint.

–Overhaul Ocean Drive. We’re seeing the changes now as the busy street was recently pedestrianized. Gelber hopes to expand the area and continue cultivating the types of “finer” businesses that would make Ocean Drive a more enriching destination.

The mayor recognized that some of these changes, which he’ll present before commissioners next week, will be divisive and even discourage a certain type of traveler that frequented South Beach. But he’s not concerned. “I believe that we’re at the point where we have to accept that we just can’t be for everyone,” said Gelber, emphatically. While there’s no set timeline in place, we should brace for a changed community that’s energizing and attracting folks in new ways. “When we emerge from this pandemic—and we will emerge—we should have a different kind of South Beach, a better one that’s just as vibrant and iconic but also cultural and safe.”

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