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Ocean Drive Task Force Looks To Turn Things Around On Iconic Art Deco District

James Teeple
Business owners on and around Ocean Drive disagree about how to improve it.

The tourists keep coming, but many locals stay away from Ocean Drive.

People living in Miami Beach will tell you that Ocean Drive has turned into a carnival of rowdy crowds, petty crime and non-stop noise from cruising cars and bars along the street.

Mitch Novick, a longtime preservationist and owner of the Sherbrooke Hotel, just around the corner from Ocean Drive, says the street has become a “free-for-all for bad behavior.”

Novick says retailers like Ralph Lauren, Kenneth Cole and Benetton have left and the international tourists who put Ocean Drive on the map are telling him they might not come back.

“They get robbed. They have to contend with the noise,” he says.

About a year ago, Novick and some of the other business owners went to the city with their complaints. In response the city created a task force chaired by Jonathon Plutzik.

Credit James Teeple / WLRN
Jonathan Plutzik in the lobby of his Betsy Hotel.

Plutzik owns the Betsy, a low-key, elegant, colonial-style hotel up the street from where most of the open-air bars and nightclubs are congregated, and he says Ocean Drive definitely needs an upgrade.

Plutzik’s task force made 30 recommendations – widening sidewalks, upgrading lighting, banning music from golf buggies and other vehicles – and getting restaurant and bar owners to install low-profile umbrellas in front of their businesses. He says the city should move quickly.

“We don’t want this to drag on for many years,” says Plutzik. “If the city commission can see their way to embrace most, if not all of the recommendations, to do so as rapidly as possible.”

But Novick, who’s on the task force, says the recommendations don’t go far enough. He wants the city to limit tables on sidewalks and ban new bars on Ocean Drive, but mostly he wants more restrictions on noise, not only from vehicles but also from bars and nightclubs.

“There needs to be restrictions first and foremost on noise,” says Novick. “I’m not looking to put anyone out of business, I’m just looking to contain or restrict the noise to some degree,” he says.

But that noise is music to bar and restaurant owners like David Wallack, who owns Mango’s Tropical Café, one of the most successful restaurants and nightclubs in the country.

Wallack says Mango’s and the other open-air restaurants on Ocean Drive pay some of the highest resort taxes in the city of Miami Beach.

He also says reports of crime are overblown. Police, he says, have stepped up patrols recently and things are nothing like what they were 25 years ago when he first opened Mango’s.

Credit James Teeple / WLRN
David Wallack owns Mango's Tropical Cafe, and doesn't want the noise his business generates to be regulated.

  Wallack also says task force recommendations to limit the number and size of umbrellas on the street could cost business owners millions.

“People are sitting down and ordering a $50 steak. You could have a party that is a $1,000 check, and if the rain comes and it’s unprotected, who pays that check?” says Wallack.

Thirty years ago preservationists fought a desperate battle to save the old, faded Art Deco buildings on Ocean Drive. Decades later, Jonathon Plutzik says Ocean Drive remains the emotional and commercial heart of Miami Beach and residents and business owners have a duty to protect and enhance it.

“Every place needs to be shined up once and a while, and Ocean Drive is not exception,” says Plutzik.