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The curfew forces Ocean Drive restaurants to stop outdoor seating.
The curfew could run through April 12, essentially shutting down spring break.
Miami Beach commissioners voted unanimously Sunday to empower the city manager to extend a curfew in the South Beach entertainment district until at least April 12, effectively shutting down a spring break hot spot in one of the few states fully open during the pandemic.
SWAT teams and law enforcement officers from at least four other agencies sought to contain the raucous crowds, but confrontations continued for days before Miami Beach officials enacted the curfew, which forces Ocean Drive restaurants to stop outdoor seating entirely.
City manager Raul Aguila said many people from other states were coming in “to engage in lawlessness and an ‘anything goes’ party attitude.” He said most weren’t patronizing the businesses that badly need tourism dollars and instead merely congregating by the thousands in the street.
Miami Beach Police said more than 1,000 people have been arrested this spring break season, with about 80 guns seized. Police chief Richard Clements said the trouble intensified on Monday, when an unusually large crowd blocked Ocean Drive “and basically had an impromptu street party.”
The partying was out of control last Friday night, he said—one restaurant was “turned upside down” in a melee, its “chairs were used as weapons,” and broken glass covered the floor. The iconic Clevelander South Beach bar next door had to suspend all food and beverage operations. Gunshots were fired, and a young woman was hospitalized with a badly cut leg, police said.
Miami Beach...even sent text messages to tourists warning, “Vacation Responsibly or Be Arrested.”
“How many more things are we going to allow to occur before we step in?” Clements said during Sunday’s meeting. He defended the city’s curfew, which also closes three causeways leading to South Beach in an effort to keep all but residents and employees from driving onto the island from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Thursday through Sunday. “I think this was the right decision,” the chief said.
Very few people in the crowds were covering their faces with masks, as is required by a Miami Beach ordinance imposed in hopes of containing the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 33,000 people in Florida so far.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has insisted that Florida have no statewide mask rules, limits on capacity, or other public health restrictions, which he credits for keeping the tourism economy going. “If you look at South Florida right now, this place is booming,” DeSantis said last month. “Los Angeles isn’t booming. New York City isn’t booming.”
According to reports from AFAR travelers in Miami right now, you can still vacation on the mainland and not notice the spring break turmoil on Miami Beach. Miami proper has been nothing short of “ordinary,” at least for COVID: Things were quiet in Wynwood and the Design Destrict, home to some of the city’s trendiest shops, restaurants, and a massive art scene, and people were masked. Beaches were calm out on Key Biscayne.
Miami’s tourism arm just spent $5 million on its biggest national advertising campaign in 20 years, seeking a rebound after billions of dollars were lost to the pandemic, canceling last year’s spring break and forcing beach closures across the Sunshine State.
Miami Beach, meanwhile, banned alcohol from the beach, along with all alcohol sales after 10 p.m., and even sent text messages to tourists warning, “Vacation Responsibly or Be Arrested.”
Several commissioners said South Beach needs a new marketing campaign to rebrand its party-city image. They pointed to the handful of arrests in Fort Lauderdale, which has raised its hotel rates and promoted a “family-friendly” spring break.
Laura Dannen Redman contributed additional reporting for AFAR.
>> Next: The AFAR Guide to Fort Lauderdale
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