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Miami Beach imposes strict measures directed at spring break visitors

Miami Beach park rangers watch over crowds Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Miami Beach, Fla. Miami Beach officials have come up with a plan to curb spring breakers after three consecutive years of violence, including two fatal shootings last year.
Marta Lavandier
Miami Beach park rangers watch over crowds Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, in Miami Beach, Fla. Miami Beach officials have come up with a plan to curb spring breakers after three consecutive years of violence, including two fatal shootings last year.

Miami Beach, along with state officials, are not mincing words when it comes to delivering a clear message to the annual crowd of spring break visitors: be on your best behavior.

After three consecutive years of spring break violence, Miami Beach officials are implementing monthlong security measures aimed at curbing the chaos, including parking restrictions for non-residents and closing sidewalk cafes on busy weekends.

The city has warned visitors to expect curfews, bag searches at the beach, early beach closures, DUI checkpoints and arrests for drug possession and violence.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday that 45 state law enforcement officers are also being deployed to the city to bolster the police.

The strict measures for visitors, which went into effect this past weekend, are being put into place to strip away the city's appeal to the party-hard going crowd.

City officials say they have been forced to take action because large rowdy crowds, arrests, and fatal shootings have in recent years overwhelmed law enforcement and residents.

Over the next two weekends, officers are checking bags at beach entrances near Ocean Drive for any banned items, including alcohol, guns, and illegal drugs. Beach entrances near Ocean Drive will close at 6 p.m. The eastbound lanes of the MacArthur and Julia Tuttle causeways will have license plate readers.

Crowds gather at Ocean Drive and Eighth during spring break in Miami Beach, Florida, on Saturday, March 18, 2023.
D.A. Varela
Miami Herald
Crowds gather at Ocean Drive and Eighth during spring break in Miami Beach, Florida, on Saturday, March 18, 2023.

State officials have dispatched Florida Highway Patrol troopers to help police with crowd control and a DUI checkpoint on 5th Street.

“Florida is a very welcoming state. We welcome people to come and have a good time. What we don’t welcome is criminal activity. What we don’t welcome is mayhem and people who want to wreak havoc on our communities,” Gov. Ron DeSantis told reporters at a press conference in Miami Beach last Tuesday.

The actions have drawn mixed responses.

Some were irked that the city announced it with a video on social media. The "Miami Beach Is Breaking Up With Spring Break" video featured Miami residents telling spring break visitors the relationship between the city and them was over.

Said one woman seen in the video sitting on Miami Beach: “You just wanna get drunk in public and ignore laws. Do you even remember what happened last March?”

The video included the sensational news media headlines noting last year's violent clashes between police and spring break visitors.

“That was our breaking point," said another person on the video. "So we’re breaking up with you, and don’t try to apologize and come crawling back. This isn’t safe, so we’re done.”

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about spring break restrictions in South Florida

Some civil rights advocates said they believe the restrictions are racially motivated.

South Beach became popular among Black tourists about two decades ago as promoters organized Urban Beach Week during the Memorial Day weekend. Many locals have complained about violence and other crime associated with the event, which led to an increased police presence. But the event’s continued popularity correlates to a bump in Black tourism throughout the year.

Stephen Hunter Johnson, an attorney and member of Miami-Dade’s Black Affairs Advisory Board, told the Associated Press that city officials are only cracking down so hard because many of the visitors are Black.

“Everybody loves this idea that they are free from their government intruding on them,” Johnson said. “But amazingly, if the government intrudes on Black people, everyone’s fine with it.”

Miami Beach’s mayor rejects the notion that the city’s actions have anything to do with race.

“I have a moral obligation to keep people safe, and right now, it is not safe,” Miami Beach Mayor Steven Meiner told the Associated Press.

Impact on businesses

As part of the city's latest crackdown, none of the restaurants on Ocean Drive, the street with colorful art deco hotels and umbrellas for shade, can seat customers outside — only indoors these next two weekends.

The city also banned slingshot, scooter, and motorcycle rentals over the next two weekends.

That impacts Emmanuel Lopez and his business, He has a Spanish-language website which offers tourists tips on finding hotels, restaurants and things to do in the Miami area.

“I know these restrictions are for the best," he told WLRN. “We have to move forward so that this destination is 100% safe, 100% fun and everyone should work together towards that goal.”

Art Deco hotels on Miami Beach's Ocean Drive.
Veronica Zaragovia
Art Deco hotels on Miami Beach's Ocean Drive.

Lopez also wants to avoid the bad images of the violence during recent spring breaks on Miami Beach.

To accomplish that, these sacrifices are necessary, says Troy Wright, executive director of the Washington Avenue Business Improvement District, a nonprofit representing property owners and businesses on this South Beach thoroughfare.

“We need them to continue to believe in the dream of being here on Washington Avenue and Miami Beach,” Wright said. “For the restaurants and the hotels, things might get a little challenging ahead but believe me, and have confidence that things that are changing are done for your good and for changing the beach positively.”

After witnessing stampedes, David Wallack, owner of Mango’s Tropical Café on Ocean Drive, told WLRN he initially agreed the city should shut down spring break.

“It just is too dangerous and then time softens the heart,” he said, acknowledging that closing means less income for his esteemed employees.

“I totally understand the city’s decisions in doing all of this, but you’re talking about for a business, any business, not just my business and all my staff making a living for their families, it’s devastating.”

Another big challenge this year is parking. The city has closed most public lots and jacked up prices at others. One is charging a $100 flat fee.

READ MORE: New parking rules aim to nudge, shove - and even 'sludge' - spring breakers

Mitch Novick, owner of the Sherbrooke Hotelin South Beach, doesn’t have a parking lot.

“One of my hotel guests rescheduled their trip from March to April when I alerted them. It’s not just $100, but with the closures, they decided ultimately to reschedule, fortunately.”

Novick’s customer base is not young people coming for spring break. It includes families, and he doesn’t want to lose them.

“I’m worried about the negative experience my guests might have outside and I hear about them,” Novick said. “The biggest blow is when they say, ‘Mitch we’re no longer coming back here.’ That hurts.”

City officials say the breakup with spring break is supposed to help bring people back who avoid the city this time of year.

“Some people ask me what success will look like on April 1st?” said Meiner, the city's mayor. “The answer is having a March without violence. Enough is enough.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Verónica Zaragovia was born in Cali, Colombia, and grew up in South Florida. She’s been a lifelong WLRN listener and is proud to cover health care, as well as Surfside and Miami Beach politics for the station. Contact Verónica at vzaragovia@wlrnnews.org
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