MIAMI BEACH (CBSMiami) – The hot-button, non-binding straw ballot vote to push Miami Beach's last call back to 2 a.m. passed by a 13-point margin on Tuesday.
The referendum was put on the ballot in response to increasingly raucous crowds and public drinking in the South Beach entertainment district, where tension has been bubbling for years as party crowds grew from a few weekends into a year-round presence. It worsened during the pandemic when city officials closed the main drag to vehicles and allowed restaurants to offer more outdoor seating along Ocean Drive.
Mayor Dan Gelber, who won reelection on Tuesday, supported the 2 a.m. closing time. He declared victory for both campaigns.
"I took on other battles other than my re-election, I took on the 2 a.m. issue because I thought it was important for the city," explained Gelber. "This is what our residents want."
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He called the earlier limit to alcohol sales a first step toward repositioning South Beach's entertainment district as a "live, work, play" area with new housing, offices and cultural spaces.
The city's commissioners had agreed to a temporary restriction of early-morning alcohol sales in South Beach last summer. Now city staff must develop legislation to codify the referendum. Gelber said he expects commissioners to support such measures now that voters have spoken.
However, exemptions are possible. Gelber said he would be open to letting bigger hotels with security staffs continue serving alcohol until 5 a.m.
Critics said the earlier cutoff would cost the city millions without stopping crime.
Resident Mario Trejo, a city bartender for 15 years, said "It's not going to be good for business, not going to be good for residents, not good for the people of Miami Beach."
Citizens for a Safe Miami Beach, the group opposed to the 2:00 a.m. last call, responded with a statement in defeat. "Citizens for a Safe Miami Beach will continue to oppose solutions that do nothing to solve crime, but will cost 4,100 local workers their jobs, increase property taxes, and cut tens of millions of dollars from city revenues."
The General Manager of Palace, Tony Michaels, says closing early is eventually going to push bartenders and hospitality workers to other cities. "We're packed at 2am for dinner. People are still ordering dinner. You have people from Colombia the UK from all over where are they going to go at 2 am?" questions Michaels.
Tourists we talked to agreed and tell me one of the reasons they come to Miami is for the late nights.
"The whole time we've been here we've been out until 1, 2 or 3 in the morning. I haven't seen anything uncomfortable. People just walking from bar to bar having a good time," says Eriel Hawkins from Atlanta.
Michaels adds, his employees are still recovering from the COVID19 pandemic.
"Why are we hitting these people again? They struggled through it, they stood around and supported Miami and now we're hitting them again with something else and it's just another hurdle they have to jump through.
The General Manager at Naked Taco agrees with Michaels and says this will wind up hurting businesses and not solving the crime problem.
"From what I see on this corner, almost every day the crime starts way earlier than 2 am," he says.
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