Ocean Drive isn’t exactly quiet on a weekday morning. The din of delivery trucks fills the air as they unload their wares at local restaurant and bars, which are just opening up after a late night of playing party host. This one-mile length of Ocean Drive is lined with Art Deco-era architecture, small hotels, bars, clubs and an occasional t-shirt and beach shop. They face Lummus Park and the sands of Miami Beach beyond.
A few people are out in the mid-morning sun, sitting outside in front patios, under the shade awnings or umbrellas eating a late breakfast. Uber drivers are dotted along the drive, along with a few taxis. A few hours earlier, it may have been a much different scene with the clubs -- including those outdoors -- serving alcohol until 5 a.m.
This is the 10-block area that is the focus of a ballot question for Miami Beach voters. It asks if these clubs should have to stop the booze three hours earlier -- at 2 a.m. Bars that are completely enclosed or entirely inside hotels could still have the liquor flowing until 5 a.m. While there are 55 places on this stretch that serve alcohol, only eight are still serving during the three hours in question. And two of them -- The Clevelander and Mangos -- are among the biggest sellers of booze on the beach bringing in $38 million together.
In Miami Beach’s tourist-dependent economy, the debate over last call has the potential for economic consequences and it has produced competing economic analyses of what the impact may be.
A study for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association predicts the loss of alcohol sales during those three hours on the one-mile strip of Ocean Drive would lead to a $361 million hit to the regional economy. It argues the loss of late night liquor sales will flow through to lower hotel room rates, job cuts, a drop in property rental prices cutting property values and leading to a hit to local tax revenue.
But a separate preliminary analysis prepared for the city of Miami Beach calls that $361 million economic cost an overreach. It claims the earlier last call would mean a nominal financial impact to the city.
In the meantime, early voting already is underway and signs urging voters to oppose the earlier last call line Ocean Drive providing for residents a civic contrast to the carefree carousing by tourists.
"The crime that's happening on Ocean Drive is actually hurting tourism in Miami Beach," said Miami Beach Commissioner Ricky Arriola. "It is bringing sort of a low-end element to Miami Beach that is hurting hotel revenues. It's hurting business in restaurants. It's hurting business in retail because people feel it's unsafe."
But a study commissioned by the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association found police service calls to the Ocean Drive neighborhood peak before 2 a.m., the proposed new cut-off time for alcohol at outdoor bars. According to the analysis, none of the top five addresses for violent crime service calls came from Ocean Drive itself during the first nine months of this year.
Yet, Arriola thinks by targeting just that street, it will begin to recast the image of the neighborhood. "The reality is Ocean Drive is what's attracting the mass of people. It's literally the street that everybody names when they think of Miami Beach, much like Times Square in New York City in the 1970s or 80s."
Arriola's vision of Ocean Drive also harkens back to decades past. "Go back 20 years or so, to the early to mid-1990s when Ocean Drive was hip. You had all the high profile celebrities and movies being filmed there. Great restaurants. Residents were going there. Now you don't see that. We have an Ocean Drive that is sort of a very low-end restaurant and bar experience where they're selling overpriced sugary drinks, burgers and chicken wings."
Mike Palma's business has a lot riding on the three hours in question. He is the executive vice president of hospitality for the company that owns The Clevelander, the biggest seller of booze on the beach. He said the hotel employs 425 full and part time workers and if it's outdoor area has to stop serving alcohol at 2 a.m. it would cost 120 jobs.
"This has a trickle down effect," he said.
Palma calls Ocean Drive "the American Riviera. "We invested in this area for the very same reasons that we are being attacked. How many places in the United States close at 2 a.m.? We become just another location. And I think it's a sad state of affairs. Ocean Drive and Miami Beach cannot afford to become just another destination."
Palma thinks the effort to institute an earlier last call outside on Ocean Drive ignores the brand that attracts tourists from around the globe. "Nightlife built this city. I'm not saying that it should take precedence, but it needs to be respected and understood that's the brand."