The world-famous South Beach in Florida is in dire need of a makeover.
Officials believe it is finally time to rid the chic community of its law-breaking, party-all-night vibe, with more than 1,000 arrests and nearly 100 weapons seizures during this year’s spring break season.
Years of increasingly strict initiatives, such as banning alcohol from beaches and canceling concerts and food festivals, have failed to prevent the city from being overrun with out-of-control parties and anything-goes antics.
Thousands of spring breakers and pandemic-weary visitors flocked to Ocean Drive this weekend, breaking into street battles, damaging restaurant land, and triggering many dangerous stampedes as a result of Florida’s lax virus-control laws. The situation became so tense that Miami Beach Police called in SWAT teams to disperse pepper bullets, as well as officers from at least four other departments. After much deliberation, the city agreed to impose an emergency curfew of 8 p.m., which will likely last well into April after the spring break season is over.
Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola said Monday, “We certainly want people to come and have fun.” “It’s a city renowned for its nightlife. People of all races, genders, and sexual orientations are welcome. But we can’t stand people who think they can come here and recreate a scene from “The Fast and the Furious,” racing down the streets and firing weapons into the air.”
The curfew has enraged some visitors, who say it has put a damper on long-awaited vacations for which they paid good money. Meanwhile, some officials argue that instead of responding in the midst of the chaos, they should have implemented more stringent measures earlier, as New Orleans did prior to Mardi Gras last month.
Arriola and other commissioners, on the other hand, believe the city will need a completely different approach.
They point out that the city has been gradually raising the stakes with new laws and regulations over the past few seasons, such as banning scooter rentals after 7 p.m., limiting alcohol sales after 8 p.m., and cracking down on loud music — all to no avail.
“We come up with new restrictions every year, but they have no impact, so when are we going to try anything new?” enquired Arriola, who proposed that more family-friendly and business-friendly activities be held.
The pandemic coincided with an unseasonably cold winter, pent-up demand from being quarantined at home, and the allure of a sunny climate with miles of sandy beaches in a state with few COVID-19 restrictions, creating the ideal storm for large crowds.
New Orleans, which hosts tens of thousands of visitors each year for Mardi Gras, spared the chaos that erupted in Miami. Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, had also enacted a statewide mask law, as well as occupancy restrictions for bars, restaurants, and other establishments.
New Orleans Democratic Mayor LaToya Cantrell went even further, closing all bars in the area, including those that were licensed to function as restaurants. For the final weekend of the season, city officials also closed Bourbon Street to cars and restricted pedestrian entry.
Despite strong resistance from Republicans and business leaders, Edwards and Cantrell were adamant about not repeating Mardi Gras 2020, which state officials later blamed for New Orleans being an early hotspot in the coronavirus pandemic.
“If people think they’re going to come to Louisiana, anywhere… and partake in the kinds of things they did before the pandemic, they’re wrong, and they’re not welcome here to do that,” Edwards said ahead of Mardi Gras.
Under Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has declined to enforce a mask-wearing ban and has insisted on allowing businesses to remain open, Miami Beach has taken less preventive steps. Instead, this year, city officials sent text messages to visitors warning them to “Vacation Responsibly or Be Arrested” and laying out a long list of laws. To prevent big crowds, the city even cancelled all concerts and food festivals, but the throngs of people who turned up anyway congregated aimlessly in impromptu street parties.
After being enticed to the state by a $5 million national tourism promotional campaign, the biggest in 20 years, some tourists were disappointed by the mixed messages.
Reg Mac, an Orlando paralegal, spent $800 on his trip to Miami, which he described as a bust due to the curfew of 8 p.m. He’d been looking forward to having a good time — and had even saved up special outfits for the after-hours scene.
“I was planning on going out to enjoy the nightlife,” Mac said, but instead chose to sleep in his hotel room. “The food was disgusting, and the service was terrible.”
“It’s sad that you can’t do anything that we want to do, that we hope to do,” Deaja Atwaters, who traveled from Harker Heights, Texas, said, “but we’re going to make the best of it.”
Officials in Miami Beach said the partygoers were mainly adults from out of town, not college students. They said that many of them didn’t even go to local restaurants or shops.
“Not all visitors to Miami Beach are bad people who come to break the law and threaten our quality of life, but this is a different situation that necessitates drastic measures,” said interim City Manager Raul Aguila, who imposed the emergency curfew.