MIAMI BEACH — Stepped up efforts by the Miami Beach Police Department can be expected at Urban Beach Week 2013. The celebration, which takes place during Memorial Day Weekend, brings many out-of-town African Americans and locals together to party at celebrity endorsed events on Miami Beach. This year, the party will last from May 24 – 27.
Miami Beach is all but ready to host the expected 200,000 revelers, said Max Sklar, director of the city’s Tourism, Culture and Economic Development.
His department and the police have drawn up an elaborate plan that includes closing Ocean Drive to vehicles and banning parking on Collins and Washington avenues, with visitors directed to parking garages. DUI checkpoints will be set up on the causeways and license plate scanners will flag stolen cars and vehicles registered to persons with outstanding felony warrants. An added layer of worry for city officials: potential terrorists who may plan mayhem as in the Boston Marathon bombing or the more recent New Orleans Mother’s Day Parade shooting.
“We have always had contingency plans for situations like those,” said Sklar. “Unfortunately, I cannot disclose what they are, for obvious reasons, but we have them. We hope for the best but plan for the worst.”Sklar said the main focus is to make the residents of the beach comfortable and to keep visitors safe.
The city has been hosting weekly informational meetings at which residents give feedback or complain.Still, for the past 11 years, Urban Beach Week and Miami Beach have had a rocky relationship. Four people have been killed and thousands arrested during the festivities. In 2006, more than 1,000 people were arrested but by 2012 that number dropped to 321, down from 548 in 2010, while the number of attendees has also declined from the 350,000 who came in the early years.
On May 30, 2011, a confrontation between party-goers and police resulted in 12 officers firing more than 100 rounds at 22-year-old Raymond Herisse. Officers claimed Herisse tried to run them over with his car.
At the meetings, at least two residents complained not about Urban Beach Week attendees, but that traffic patterns implemented last year left their stores and their wallets empty.
“I know some people complain but these are our customers,” said Gabriela Provenzano, who has a store on 16th Street and is caught in the traffic loop — literally. Sklar promised to meet with the 16th Street shop owners to sort out parking garage issues.
Larry Pollard, who was not at the informational meeting, is worried that the violence in 2011 drove some people away. He is offering a yacht cruise around downtown for 400 people. As of Monday, he was half sold out.
“I expected it to be better than what it is … I was hoping the event would be sold out by now,” said Pollard, a Miami-based event coordinator. “From the previous years, having some kind of violence by a few knuckleheads is keeping people away. It will still be a good event. I have people from France who want in.”
Sklar said hotel occupancy at 80 to 90 percent already shows that Urban Beach Week will be a busy time. And staple events are still a go.
If the private parties and clubbing are the cake of Urban Beach Week, Best of the Best, a mostly reggae event, is the icing. Hip-hop artists were added to the roster in 2010, when several reggae artists couldn’t get visas to come to perform. This year, the hip hop element is all but gone. Headlining the weekend will be reggae crooner Beres Hammond, who is known for creating moods of romance and harmony.
Pollard, who is still waiting to sell out his yacht trip, has a message for revelers: “Stay home if you are not coming to have a good time.”