Miami Beach commissioners set to vote on limiting alcohol sales during spring break

MIAMI BEACH, FLA. (WSVN) - Miami Beach commissioners are set to vote on a proposal by the city’s mayor to end alcohol sales in the entertainment district earlier than normal during spring break.

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said he wants to close bars and end liquor sales early during the two-week period in South Beach’s busiest spots. The mayor hopes the new last call will lead to less fights on the street and arrests on the beach.

“We’ve had serious problems during spring break,” Gelber said. “It’s a bad look for our city. We have to do something. We need to tamp down the behavior.”

The Miami Beach City Commission will take up Gelber’s proposal on Wednesday, which they are expected to vote on.

If the proposal becomes law, it will apply to areas on Ocean Drive, between Fifth and 15th streets, during a 17-day period. The proposal would also extend into major streets such as Collins Avenue, Washington Avenue and Española Way. Instead of the usual 5 a.m. cut off time, the liquor sales will stop at 2 a.m., under the proposed rule.

“We’re not New Orleans, and we’re not Bourbon Street, and I don’t think we should want to be,” Gelber said. “Our community has been marketed as a place where anything goes, and we have to send a counter message to that. That’s not the case.”

“If you came with friends, a group of friends like college people, I think, yeah, you’d want it open until 5 a.m.,” tourist Kelly Mayotte said.

Bad, sometimes criminal, behavior was on full display in 2019 and in prior years with drunken violence going viral on social media.

“If you look at the images from last year, if you look at the fact that we had to send police in what appeared to be riot gear onto beaches and streets, that’s just not who we are,” Gelber said.

“I understand from the people here because there’s always a lot of arrests and stuff, but also, the people who come here want to party,” tourist Fernanda Lizana said.

However, not everyone agrees with Gelber’s proposal to limit alcohol in the city.

Ceci Velasco, an opponent to the mayor’s remedy, directs the Ocean Drive Association and represents dozens of hotels and restaurants.

“The message to the world is: Miami Beach is closed for business,” Velasco said. “Why penalize the customer base that is the backbone of the Miami Beach economy because of people in the street that aren’t spending money with us?”

David Wallack’s business, the Mango’s Tropical Cafe at 900 Ocean Drive, is in the middle of where the spring break party persists annually. He also mentioned the new rule would put some of his employees out of work.

“Well, that’s what we want to protect against,” he said. “It’s damaging the brand. That is very serious stuff, and that’s a shot that would go around the world and really damage our international nightlife brand.”

City commissioners passed an ordinance on Wednesday that will require businesses serving liquor past midnight to hire an off-duty police officer year-round.

Velasco said that ordinance is one the association can get behind.

“We have been asking for it every year,” she said. “It is something that worked in the past.”

A variation of the 2 a.m. closing time proposal was attempted by ex-Mayor Philip Levine. Ultimately, it was shot down by voters, and service industry locals are not loving the potential change, either.

“This is for two weeks, two weeks,” Gelber said. “It’s not putting anybody out of business.”

“All of the businesses, they’re here to make money,” a resident said. “They’re here to be able to capitalize on the tourists that are here, and so I don’t think it’s a good idea to limit the amount of time that people are able to drink.”

If the proposal gets a first vote on Wednesday, commissioners will have a second reading on the proposal by the end of February.

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