MIAMI BEACH, FLA. (WSVN) - Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine addressed comments they made during a Zoom meeting with developers and business owners where Gelber said the future of South Beach’s entertainment district “needs to be on the ballot.”

In audio leaked from the Sept. 13 online meeting, Gelber is heard saying, “I commit to you this, if you want something on the ballot, because it needs to be on the ballot, I’ll put it on the ballot.”

Gelber and Levine said they met with various developers to discuss the future of the entertainment district.

“There are six commissioners. Two of them are going to be new coming on. We need to utilize whatever influence we have to push those six commissioners to follow the vision and the agenda of the mayor and the manager to make the city safer,” said Levine. “In other words, nothing can happen unless we exercise our power.”

The audio was first sent to Miami New Times. 7News learned the meeting was held on Zoom.

While some question the comments made during that meeting, Levine defended what was said.

“You had business people, you had developers, you had residents that are basically saying, ‘We want to change that entertainment district,'” he said.

Among the business owners reacting to the leaked audio is David Wallack, the owner of Mango’s Tropical Cafe on Ocean Drive.

“Certainly, something doesn’t smell right,” he said.

The meeting follows a year of rampant crime in the area and an ongoing effort to roll back last call to 2 a.m.

“If you think that cancer is a marketable commodity, then I guess Ocean Drive and the entertainment district is something people would want to buy,” said Levine. “They don’t want to buy it.”

The former mayor blamed the unrest on a handful of Ocean Drive hot spots.

“The only one that’s pushing the story in [Miami] New Times that you’re talking about is three or four bars on Ocean Drive that are holding our city hostage, that are making our city unsafe,” he said during a phone interview.

But Wallack said the situation is more complicated.

“It’s not localized to Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue, Washington. It should be clean and safe, and that’s what we’ve worked for, for 30 years,” he said.

Gelber, meanwhile, argued this was not a private or secretive meeting, and he stands behind his words.

“I’m proud to say that I want to reform this area, and if my colleagues won’t do it, I’ll ask the voters,” he said.

Gelber said they were discussing the first part of his 12-point plan for the city, specifically the third item.

The mayor pointed to what his plan says after each item: “ballot item if necessary.”

“I’m not sure why [the New Times] thought this was in any way surprising because it’s been reported in other newspapers that I say it quite regularly,” he said.

Wallack said things have been in decline since he saw an absence of police patrolling South Beach starting in 2014.

“The taking away of police from Ocean Drive in 2014 created the unlawfulness that became prevalent in the streets from that, and it only got worse when 2020 came and all the businesses were closed,” he said.

Last year, police closed down Ocean Drive to traffic.

“You’ve opened it up to a street party, because it just filled the void,” said Wallack. “That seems to be what was planned: to create a managed decline in property value so that developers can come in and buy it up cheap.”

But Levine said area residents want to see this reform take place.

“If the commissioners, if the elected officials, are unable or unwilling to do what needs to be done, what we saw are residents coming together, putting money where their mouths is in the future, and they will put these issues on the ballot to let the people of Miami Beach decide, because enough is enough,” he said.

Voters will decide on the rollback of last call to 2 a.m. in November.

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