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Miami Beach residents, and hospitality workers, will soon be heard on 2 a.m. alcohol cutoff proposal

Hospitality industry workers rallied against banning alcohol after 2 a.m. in Miami Beach outside of Miami Beach City Hall on Oct. 13, 2021.
Verónica Zaragovia
Hospitality industry workers rallied against banning alcohol after 2 a.m. in Miami Beach outside of Miami Beach City Hall on Oct. 13, 2021.

Miami Beach commissioners tried to change the city’s last call for alcohol from 5 to 2 a.m. earlier this year in the so-called entertainment district in an effort spearheaded by Mayor Dan Gelber. The effort failed, though, despite four commissioners voting in favor, after the Clevelander on Ocean Drive sued and a Miami-Dade Circuit judge sided with the hotel.

Circuit Judge Beatrice Butchko ruled that the vote was done unlawfully, because it had been presented as a general ordinance that needed a majority vote. Instead, it should have been presented as a change to land-development regulations. That requires the support of five commissioners.

Now the city is asking Miami Beach residents to vote on it in this year's election.

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People who work in Miami Beach say they will lose money and so will the city by banning alcohol after 2 a.m.

"Fight crime, save jobs, vote no!" shouted dozens of hospitality industry workers who rallied outside of Miami Beach City Hall on Oct. 13.

"We are not the problem," said Mario Trejo, a long-time bartender at Twist. "We are helping to bring safe havens so they have places to go and not go out just running out in the streets."

Trejo said the earnings made during the 2 to 5 a.m. hours are substantial and changing the last call time would deter people from coming down to South Beach at all.

David Wallack, owner of Mango’s on Ocean Drive, said through a megaphone that commissioners want venues like his to go out of business "not to better Miami Beach, but to create a real estate land grab for developers."

"Now they want to damage our tourism industry by hurting all of us who provide the entertainment and the celebration in our city and shut the music and go dark," Wallack said.

While some in Miami Beach had their voices heard loudly, others say they city leaders have forgotten about residents amid all the tension over tourists.

Susan Chapelle says she's voting yes on the 2 a.m. cutoff. Chapelle moved to Miami Beach about 20 years ago, not long after Sept. 11, 2001, and plans to sell her apartment. She says there’s nothing left in South Beach for her.

"It was nice to be able to walk down Ocean Drive or walk down Lincoln Road and there was little mom-and-pop shops," Chapelle said.

The city, which depends heavily on tourism revenue, needs to work on drawing a wider variety of tourists, she said, so that the draw to the city doesn't only revolve around consuming alcohol well into the morning. She says the atmosphere isn't inviting for people who live in Miami Beach.

"Have families come here," Chapelle said. "Have tourists that wanna go see Vizcaya, that wanna go see the Coral Castle, that wanna go to the Everglades. That want to see something else other than drinking at 5 a.m. on Ocean Drive."

The referendum is a non-binding straw poll. Four years ago in 2017, a similar proposal to ban alcohol sales after 2 a.m. got voted down by 65% of residents.

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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