Miami Beach Commission to discuss liquor ban options at 2 a.m.

Five months after voters said they would support new alcohol restrictions, the City Commission will meet on Wednesday to consider proposals that could change South Beach’s famous nightlife scene.

miami beach Commissioners are due to discuss three proposals that would cut alcohol sales by three hours from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m. One of the proposed ordinances would impose a blanket ban on alcohol at 2 a.m. across the city. The other two would create exceptions for certain existing 5 a.m. businesses or those in certain areas of the city.

In November, 57% of voters approved a non-binding referendum backing a 2 a.m. cut to liquor sales with certain “exceptions” for the commission to decide. Referendum supporters, including Mayor Dan Gelber, argued there was a need to change South Beach’s reputation as a rowdy party destination. Critics, including business owners, said it would hurt employees of places that sell alcohol and do little to curb crime.

But the open language of the mock vote left the question of voter intent up to the commission’s interpretation.

This has led to differences of opinion on how best to balance the interests of residents who want to change the city’s entertainment industry and business owners determined to save it. The commissioners, who began discussing a bill in January, also face potential legal challenges after a judge overturned the city’s two previous attempts to curb liquor sales.

“In my mind, Wednesday is really a last call for the alcohol debate at 2 a.m.,” said commissioner Mark Samuelian, who is calling for a strict 2 a.m. cut-off with no exceptions. “We are now at the point where it is up to the commission to deliver.”

At the other end, a proposal by Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez would grandfather into existing 5 AM businesses with certain conditional use permits. Other businesses would need board approval to serve alcohol after 2 a.m. They would also be required to submit security and crowd control plans, hire security guards, and agree to cooperate with police or code enforcement.

The commissioners, who discussed the alcohol legislation at a committee meeting last month, appear to have focused on both proposals – although it’s unclear whether either has the four votes required to pass the seven-member commission.

If either order is approved on Wednesday, it would require a final vote in late May or June.

A third option, presented by Gelber, would create exceptions for large hotels on Collins Avenue north of the South Beach entertainment district and businesses in other areas of the city. It would take five votes to pass. Commissioners approved the order in a preliminary vote in February, but it no longer appears to have sufficient support.

Gelber said Tuesday he thought the ordinance could pass, but was willing to compromise to get something approved.

“I’m going to take pretty much anything I can get at this point,” he said.

The commission will also consider further restricting liquor sales near the 41st Street corridor in Mid Beach. The area has had a 2 a.m. liquor ban since 2016, but liquor establishments operating at the time were exempted from the ban. The order, sponsored by Commissioner Alex Fernandez, would lift the exemption.

Other proposals could be presented soon. Fernandez, who expressed frustration with the length of the alcohol debate, said he would offer a 2 a.m. citywide rollback for outdoor venues only.

Commissioner David Richardson, noting that none of the current proposals could pass, said there might be a way to address the “carnival” atmosphere on Ocean Drive without rolling back alcohol sales. It offers height and density incentives to redevelop hotels into residential or office buildings.

He said he spoke to the Clevelander on Ocean Drive about the possibility of converting the famous hotel and bar into a gated residential building with fine dining. Currently, the Clevelander’s large outdoor patio creates an attraction for crowds to gather outside, he said. A Clevelander attorney declined to comment.

“My objective with this proposal is to find ways to change the business model of certain companies in the [South Beach entertainment] district,” Richardson wrote in an email Tuesday. “The ‘carnival’ atmosphere created by certain businesses spills over into the streets, creating an untenable situation for our community and the police.

This story was originally published April 5, 2022 7:25 p.m.

Martin Vassolo covers Miami Beach politics and government for the Miami Herald. He started working for the Herald in January 2018 after attending the University of Florida, where he served as editor of The Independent Florida Alligator. Previously, he was a general duty reporter at the Herald’s subway counter and a political reporting intern.

Aurora J. William