Thousands flock to Ocean Drive after Clevelander temporarily closes dining area due to safety concerns

MIAMI BEACH, FLA. (WSVN) - Thousands of revelers packed Ocean Drive to kick off what police said is expected to be the busiest weekend of spring break, but a popular spot will remain closed to diners due to safety concerns.

7News cameras captured thousands of people along the 700 block of Ocean Drive, just after 10 p.m. on Friday.

About a block north, a large crowd of mostly maskless revelers were seen walking around the iconic street while police officers kept a watchful eye across the street.

A 7News crew spotted a Miami Beach Police prisoner van on standby, in case a situation gets out of hand.

Hours earlier, The Clevelander South Beach announced Friday that they will be temporarily halting their food and beverage operations.

Friday afternoon, cameras captured empty tables and folded umbrellas at The Clevelander. The entrance to the dining area was blocked.

“Recently, we have grown increasingly concerned with the safety of our dedicated employees and valued customers and the ability of the City to maintain a safe environment in the surrounding area,” the hotel’s manager said in a letter posted to social media. “Therefore, we have made the difficult decision to temporarily close the food and beverage operations at Clevelander South Beach until at least March 24, 2021.”

The hotel said they will re-evaluate over the coming days and will decide if they should reopen or remain temporarily closed.

Their concerns likely stem from several incidents that took place in Miami Beach over the past few days.

Cellphone video showed the tail end of a stampede on Ocean Drive, Friday evening, as people ran away. Several women screamed as they fled to safety.

The stampede happened after a large group of people gathered near Wet Willie’s.

Thursday night, police used pepper bombs to break up a fight outside a restaurant, sending spring breakers running for cover.

Cellphone video showed patrons at Jalapeño Mexican Kitchen on the 500 block of Ocean Drive as they got under tables.

Before the situation spiraled into chaos, revelers packed Ocean Drive between Eighth and Ninth streets.

When the fight broke out and police moved in, nearby restaurants took a major hit. Video showed furniture and glassware tossed and broken, and checks were left unpaid.

A man was also killed following a shooting Monday night.

Police have increased efforts to crack down on crime in the city, including bringing in officers from other departments.

“We are at the height of spring break, this weekend being what is expected to be the busiest of the weeks,” said Miami Beach Police Officer Ernesto Rodriguez. “A lot of additional reinforcements in terms of police activity here in Miami Beach, so a lot of measures in place to curb any criminal activity, to tame the crowds and to encourage people who are here to behave responsibly. If not, the message is clear: you will be arrested.”

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said he is disturbed by the recent incidents captured on video.

“We’re just going to have to manage it the best we can. I hate seeing the videos,” he said.

Ultimately, Gelber said, he wants to end the entertainment district, but for now, he’s focused on getting a handle on spring break.

“I want people to know that we have a lot of officers here, and we’re not warning people. We’re arresting them,” he said.

At least two dozen people were arrested Thursday night.

“In the past five and a half weeks, we’ve seen over 900 arrests,” said Rodriguez.

Miami Beach has enlisted the help of the Florida Highway Patrol. Video showed troopers on the eastbound side of the MacArthur Causeway, Friday evening.

Hours later, cameras showed backed up traffic along the westbound lanes of Fifth Street right before the causeway.

Officials said they are prepared to shut down the causeway this weekend if needed to control the number of people who head into Miami Beach.

In his statement, the manager for Clevelander South Beach wrote, “The Clevelander employees have our full support and shall be paid their full salary during this period.”

However, many of these employees depend on tips to make a living.

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