Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber secured another victory in his proposal to overhaul the City’s Entertainment District with the passage of an ordinance that toughens the penalties for violating the Sidewalk Café Code of Conduct.
This is the third piece of legislation in his effort to get what he calls the “anything goes” attitude of the area under control. His vision: Create an Art Deco Cultural District that emphasizes the arts over raucus entertainment. Earlier this month, Commissioners voted to turn down the noise at 2 am on two blocks of Ocean Drive between 9th and 11th Streets known as the Cabaret District which had been exempt from east-facing noise limits. They also voted to create a Legacy Business designation that may be used to provide incentives or exemptions in the future for longstanding businesses in good stead.
Under the new Sidewalk Café Code of Conduct penalty structure, following the first violation of the Code of Conduct within the preceding 12 months, the operator’s sidewalk café permit would be suspended for 24 hours. Once reopened, the café would have to close its sidewalk café at midnight until an operational plan detailing how violations will be corrected is approved by the City Manager.
The Code of Conduct prohibits “hawking” to bring customers into a café, 2-for-1 specials signs, and deceptive business practices, among other things. While the Code of Conduct is citywide, the no solicitation provision impacts Ocean Drive, Lincoln Road, and Española Way. It went into effect in October 2019.
Upon the second violation within the preceding 12 months, the operator would receive a suspension of the sidewalk café permit for one weekend (Saturday and Sunday) and once reopened would have to end all sidewalk café business operations at 10:00 pm each day until an operational plan detailing how any violations will be corrected is submitted and approved by the City Manager. The ordinance requires the City to make “reasonable efforts to approve or deny the permittee’s proposed operational plan within five (5) business days.”
Significantly, upon a third violation within the preceding 12 months, the business would have its sidewalk café permit revoked for the remaining portion of the permit year. Currently, revocation is not applied until the fourth offense.
A permittee who has been issued four or more violations within the preceding 12 months will not be allowed to apply for and obtain a new permit for two consecutive permit years following the permit year in which the most recent violation was incurred.
The new ordinance takes effect on February 6, ten days after its final passage, and is applied prospectively. On that date, the “’penalty clock’ would be reset for all permittees, for purposes of implementing the enhanced penalties,” according to a memo from Acting City Attorney Rafael Paz. In other words, the next penalty assessed to any sidewalk café operator would be their first.
Though the ordinance was part of Gelber’s plan to overhaul Ocean Drive, its impact is citywide. Upon passage, seven sidewalk café operators had three Code of Conduct violations and, thus, in a position to lose their permit with one more violation prior to the clock being reset. They are Il Giardino, The Carlyle Cafe, Il Bolognese, and Cuba Libre on Ocean Drive and Taverna, Ole Ole, and Tapelia on Lincoln Road.
Between now and the effective date of the ordinance, the City will conduct outreach to café operators regarding the tougher penalties.
The item was co-sponsored by Commissioner Mark Samuelian.
Paz’s full memo on the café penalties and ordinance is here.
“If people are coming here to go crazy please don’t, go somewhere else,” urged Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber. “If you’re coming here because you think we don’t have rules with regard to COVID, go somewhere else as well,” he said.
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Failing, overburdened and outpaced by COVID-19, that’s how some are describing the state’s contact tracing program. Investigative Reporter Katie LaGrone finds out where the program stands despite the state revealing little about its efforts
Touted as a major weapon in the war to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus, Florida’s contact tracing program remains an active part of the state’s ongoing battle but detail appears to still be shrouded in secrecy.
For months, we’ve reported on the state’s slow and struggling efforts to successfully contact trace.
Despite repeated requests for basic information including the most current number of tracers, success rates and other program details, Florida’s Department of Health (FDOH) has not provided any information.
So we asked cities and counties for insight. Most county health departments referred us to the FDOH.
But Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber didn’t hold back when asked how contact tracing was going in his city.
“It’s failing,” Gelber said. “Contact tracing still remains one of many weak points in our [the state’s] approach to this pandemic.”
Gelber has been an outspoken critic of the state’s overall response to the pandemic.
“Unfortunately it’s deja vu because it happened precisely like this over the summer and we didn’t even have enough people to make the calls at that point. Now we just have a terrible program, “ he said.
His city and Miami-Dade county run general remains an epic-center for positive cases, deaths and a continuous surge.
“When you don’t have contact tracing, you have the surge and that’s exactly what’s happening,” he said.
State draft reports about contact tracing in Miami Dade County Gelber provided to us show over a two-week period in December, less than half the number of people who tested positive were interviewed by a tracer within two days, records show.
“We are not even reaching 50% of those infected on a daily basis,” he said.
But tracing during the holidays is likely to cause challenges. Gelber said he receives updated reports every two weeks and a less than 50% contact rate is consistent in the county.
It’s unclear if that’s true and for how long. We asked FDOH for copies of all county reports on contact tracing going back to Nov. 1. In an email, a spokesperson with FDOH said our public record request, “is currently being processed.”
Across the county, contact tracing is a struggle for states and communities experiencing surges in positive cases.
“When cases are so high there’s only so much you can do,” said Adriane Casalotti with the National Association of County and City Health Officials.
Casalotti has encouraged contact tracing since the beginning of the pandemic. She said the surge coupled with people’s refusal to cooperate with tracers has left state contact tracing efforts severely weakened around the country.
“There are just some places that are not even attempting contact tracing to certain levels at this point depending on how their community spread is going,” Casalotti said.
Other states and communities are changing the way they trace by focusing only on populations most at risk of dying or spreading the disease.
Last summer, Florida contracted with an outside firm, Maximus Inc, to ramp up its contact tracing efforts. The state has three contracts with the Virginia-based government contractor worth a total of $70 million, according to the state’s government contract website.
As of August, the state with the help of Maximus had 4400 tracers working to stop the virus’ spread. Where that number stands now remains unknown.
In an email, a Maximus Inc spokesperson said, “Maximus continues to support the state in their contract tracing efforts, and we are working closely with the Florida Department of Health to provide any support they need to address the current COVID-19 cases in Florida.”
What that means and how it’s all going, like contact tracing itself in Florida, remains a question the state has yet to fully answer.
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Leaders in Miami-Dade County say the ‘#Resilient305’ project has made progress since being launched over a year ago.
“The purpose of this was to get us all together and agree on some common objectives some common goals that would raise everybody,” said Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber an event Friday.
He is one of several mayors whose city is included in the project, which is overall aimed at making the community better for everyone.
“The best way to do this is to work collaboratively in a way that is good for everybody,” Gelber said. “All the ships rise in the harbor when the tide rises.”
The county is faced with issues including affordable housing, income inequality, traffic and infrastructure.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said that since #Resilient305’s launch, there has been progress for nearly all of the 59 action items, including protecting Biscayne Bay.
“We know that it is under attack, and we need to do everything urgently to protect it,” Levine Cava said. “It’s the cornerstone of our public health, our environment and our regional economy, but it has been careening towards collapse.”
“This work touches upon all the critical aspects of our community and its future.”
Recently, the state gave $20 million to protect the bay after dozens of dead fish washed ashore over the summer.
In the City of Miami, Mayor Francis Suarez said $200 million will be spent on adding pump stations in the city, and the city plans to plant 4,000 trees to help absorb water during flooding and with storm surges.
“We are working together to ensure that our beautiful paradise that we call home, stays just as wonderful for our children and my grandchildren, and everyone’s grandchildren for the years to come,” Levine Cava said.
She hopes to have all 34 municipalities onboard with the strategy in the near future.
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Miami Beach started to deliver Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccines to seniors’ apartments on Wednesday in South Beach, as part of a program that aims to vaccinate 300 seniors.
Fire Rescue personnel arrived at Council Towers North with the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. They were carrying blue bins and rolling in coolers for some of the dozens of residents at the affordable housing community for seniors.
“We just have got to get it to them because every day they go without it is a day they’re in danger,” said Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber.
To start the program, city officials made sure emergency medical technicians received training and moved an industrial freezer into a fire station to store a small supply of the Moderna vaccine.
City Manager Raul Aguila said the city received 60 vials of the Moderna vaccine on Tuesday in addition to “an extremely limited number of vaccines” for homebound seniors. Authorities are choosing who to vaccinate.
“We don’t want to do what we have seen happen, which is tens of thousands of hundreds of thousands of people call and there’s really not enough vaccine to address them,” Gelber said.
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Small businesses in Miami Beach that have been hurt by the pandemic can soon apply for up to $20,000 in emergency grant money. The funds can be used to pay for rent, mortgages, utilities, payrolls, operating supplies and other types of business expenses.
“The City of Miami Beach through the efforts of Mayor Dan Gelber and the entire City Commission have done a remarkable job in providing support to our businesses throughout the pandemic,” President and CEO Jerry Libbin of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce said.
Miami Beach Commissioners voted unanimously in October to set aside $600,0000 in funding through the Community Development Block Grant – Coronavirus (CDBG-CV) to assist at least 30 small businesses that have been hard hit by the coronavirus.
“This business grant program is yet another humanitarian effort to assist our small businesses owners which make up the bulk of all businesses in Miami Beach,” Libbin added.
The grants will be awarded on a first-come, first-qualified basis. The application may be viewed beginning on December 28, 2020 and applications may be submitted beginning on January 6, 2021. Interested businesses should visit https://miamibeachfl.gosmart.org. The application process will remain open until all funds are exhausted.
As a condition of accepting the money, small businesses must retain or create one job filled by a Miami Beach resident of low-to-moderate income or the business must be owned by a low-to-moderate income wage earner. Businesses should be prepared to show 2020 and 2021 business tax receipts, tax returns, bank statements, payroll documents, invoices and proof of payment for eligible expenses.
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A new economic analysis of the South Beach Entertainment District commissioned by the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce shows the positive financial benefits of the district known as the MXE. The report was an attempt to answer two previous cost-benefit calculations by City staff and an outside consultant.
Mayor Dan Gelber who is pushing to change the dynamic from what he calls an “anything goes” entertainment atmosphere to an arts and culture district said he doesn’t dispute the economics of the current business model in the area but said it isn’t worth it to him. “I think whenever you have that number of people buying that many big drinks in that period of time, there is going to be a financial advantage, but the question isn’t really is it a financial advantage because you just can’t pay the City enough to worry as much as we do or to have an image that sometimes projects out” of what happens in the Entertainment District.
Gelber reminded Commissioners of a presentation from Miami Beach Police Chief Rick Clements the week before in which he showed Commissioners heat maps of the City’s calls for service and arrests. “No one should be tethered to a business model that keeps people up at night,” he said. There isn’t enough revenue coming into the City for him “to be up at night worried about what call I’m going to get from the Police Chief or Manager” about an incident that occurs within the area.
“The top five locations for all the trouble are literally in this area almost,” Gelber said. “That was the thing that was most important to me [in the Chief’s presentation] is that from this little area that we call the Cabaret District or whatever you want to call it, all of the very serious crimes happen.”
Gelber added, “It’s almost impossible to do an analysis that says what does this district mean in this incarnation and what would it mean financially in another incarnation… for me the biggest question is what would a Art Deco Cultural District do?”
The discussion at this week’s City Commission meeting was prompted by Commissioner David Richardson’s concerns about two previous reports indicating the MXE costs the City more than the revenue it brings in. The first was a simple calculation done by City staff listing revenues and expenses attributed to the MXE and detailed in what became a controversial letter to City Commissioners (LTC) in July 2018. That math exercise showed a $28.4 million deficit in revenues contributed versus the City’s costs attributed to the MXE.
A consultant hired to review that LTC narrowed the gap considerably to $6 million. The Lambert Advisory report recommended a more comprehensive study to determine the indirect revenue and cost factors that are not so easily identified.
Richardson said he was “disturbed” that members of the community were quoting what he calls a “flawed analysis” and he expressed concern that it was being used to deny additional police resources for the area. Richardson invited economist Hank Fishkind, Director of PFM Financial Advisors, an independent consultant engaged by the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce to do a more complete analysis of the area, to present his findings to the Commission. Fishkind has some familiarity with the dynamics of the district. He was hired by a number of the restaurant and club owners to conduct an analysis for their campaign to defeat a referendum that would have reduced the alcohol service hours on Ocean Drive from 5 am to 2 am.
In this most recent report, Fishkind said the net positive fiscal impact of the Entertainment District is $3.9 million. In addition, he said the area contributes an estimated $22 million to Miami-Dade County from property tax revenues and $33.7 million to the County school district.
Fishkind said the original staff analysis “did not provide an accurate representation of the total revenues generated” because it excluded “sales taxes, utility taxes, business taxes, licenses and permits, state and federal grants for law enforcement, parking fees, parking fines, police detention fines, fire inspection fees, ambulance fees, or rents and royalties for use of public facilities.”
According to Fishkind’s report, “The revenues presented also did not include any portion of taxes from properties outside the Entertainment Area that benefit from the MXE Entertainment Area. Likewise, the analysis did not differentiate the expenditures resulting from the visitors and residents that used the MXE Entertainment Area beaches and businesses and those that are directly related to the residents, employees and visitors that reside within the MXE Entertainment Area.”
With regard to expenses, Fishkind’s report said, “Many of these expenditures are a result of the City purposely locating high intensity events within and proximate to Lummus Park… The MXE zoning was developed to concentrate tourist and resident activities. This concentration of people does directly increase the demand for police services, but it also reduces the impacts of these activities to the City’s residents. In other words, it helps keep the festival goers and spring breakers within the Entertainment Area and away from residential areas. While we are not in a position to determine the applicability of the expenditures calculated by the Police Department, it appears that most of the allocated expenses are a result of the City zoning protecting the residential areas from unwanted activities and therefore, most of these expenditures should be allocated to as City expenditures, not specifically MXE expenditures.”
His analysis reallocates total staff reported expenditures of $51,782,176 nearly half and half between the MXE and citywide.
“Only 16.7 percent of hotel visitors and 13.6 percent of timeshare visitors are located within the MXE,” according to the report. “This data shows that the small percentage of visitors and residents within the MXE is not sufficient to support the restaurants, bars and nightclubs within the MXE. It should be clear that the majority of patrons of the restaurants, clubs, bars, and shops within the Entertainment Area come from other parts of the city and county. In other words, the MXE has developed to support the demand for restaurants, bars and nightclubs from residents and visitors from outside the MXE.”
“The MXE is a vital component of the city’s economic base, cited by a very large percentage of visitors and very large percentage of meeting planners as to why they come to Miami Beach,” Fishkind told Commissioners.
His analysis looked at the direct impact from workers employed, wages earned and money spent by businesses within the MXE; indirect impact from purchases for goods and services made by MXE Entertainment Area businesses from other companies in Miami-Dade which generate sales and employment by those companies; and the ripple or multiplier effect of money circulating throughout the local economy from money spent by employee households which lead to local businesses producing or providing other goods and services which generate additional taxes, fees and other revenues.
“In other words,” the report states, “the revenues generated by the businesses within the Entertainment Area are only a part of the total revenues generated by the economic impacts of the businesses located there.”
He estimates that every $1 million in hotel sales generates 12+ jobs and local sales of $1.6 million and every $1 million in sales from a nightclub generates 24+ jobs and $1.7 million in local sales.
“This means that every hotel dollar spent is increased by 60+ percent within the community and every bar and nightclub dollar spent is increased by 70+ percent,” he wrote.
One of the issues raised by Ocean Drive businesses about the City’s calculation was the inclusion of Lummus Park expenses. “Approximately one-third of the total MXE Entertainment Area is beach, Lummus Park,” Fishkind wrote. “The beach activities generate significant demand for City services (police, fire, parks, recreation, sanitation, parking) but do not DIRECTLY generate any revenue for the City. The great demand for services generated by Lummus Park alone underscores the inappropriateness of the City Staff’s attempt to compare direct costs to direct revenues.”
“The intensive use of the area’s beaches, restaurants, bars and night clubs suggests that most of the patrons of the Entertainment Area come from residents and visitors from other parts of Miami Beach and Miami-Dade County,” according to the report. “This assumption is backed up by [Greater Miami Convention and Visitor Bureau] surveys. This factor also makes it difficult to allocate the costs and revenues generated by just the MXE Entertainment District.”
“The City Staff analysis only used property taxes and resort taxes from the MXE as total revenues,” the report notes. “The revenue source [sic] need to be expanded for the same reason that expenditures need to be allocated on a broader citywide basis. Most of the tourists, visitors and residents that use Lummus Park, attend festivals and events and patronize the restaurant and nightclub establishments within the Entertainment Area come from hotels and homes outside of the Entertainment Area.”
Citing survey data showing that the primary purpose for those visiting Miami Beach is the beaches (65%), Art Deco District/South Beach (47%), any place on Ocean Drive (24%), and Clubs/night clubs (19%), he wrote, “[O]ne could make the argument that up to 47% of the ad valorem revenue and resort tax revenue from hotels could be allocated as part of the net revenues from the Entertainment Area. Therefore, some portion of the property taxes, resort taxes and sales taxes from other hotels, restaurants and retail stores should also be allocated as funding sources for Lummus Park and MXE activities… In addition, the sales tax revenue, parking fees, fines, fire assessments and fire permits and other revenues generated within the Entertainment Area should be included in the total revenue calculation.”
PFM used a fiscal impact model utilizing the City’s operating budget, resort taxes and current demographic information.
“Periodically there are attempts to make changes to the MXE Entertainment Area, usually in the form of decreasing the business hours of operation,” the report states. “A large percentage of Miami Beach hotel visitors are international tourists that choose Miami Beach because of the ambiance and activities available within the Entertainment Area. Any modifications to these area attributes could lead to a reduction in the desirability of Miami Beach as a vacation and convention destination. These visitors generate about $30.9 million in tourist related property taxes, $90.7 million in resort taxes and $3.2 million sales taxes for the City. These visitors also generate approximately $21.7 million for the Convention Center and about $38.5 million for the School District. Any loss in visitation could lead to a reduction in property values and less resort tax and sale [sic] tax collection. A reduction in value and tax collections may significantly impact the City, School and Convention Center budgets. A reduction of only 10 percent could result in lost revenue of $6.2 million for the City and $2.1 million for the Convention Center,” the report concludes
Commissioner Mark Samuelian invited Eric Liff from Lambert Advisory to review his firm’s analysis of the original staff calculations.
Liff noted, “Our work was really focused on a revenue and expense analysis, quite different than a broader economic impact analysis.”
Evaluating the original staff memo, he said the revenue side was adjusted to include a portion of Washington Avenue that is part of the Entertainment District but which was not included in the original calculations by staff resulting in increased property taxes and resort taxes contributed.
Richardson asked Liff if he recognized the limited scope of reviewing the staff calculations and the flaws in the analysis in terms of its incompleteness.
“We discussed that,” Liff said. “At the time the real focus [was] the city wanted to get this moving ahead and really kind of validate… the original LTC.”
Richardson asked if he understood his company’s report is “being quoted as saying we’d be better off not having an MXE” without having done a full economic analysis. “Do you recognize that people are quoting your expert opinion and showing that the MXE is operating at a deficit?”
“We understand that,” Liff said, emphasizing that the Lambert report noted “obviously there are other factors that need to be taken into account.” As such, he estimated the MXE impact was “more of a breakeven, not really a deficit.”
Richardson challenged Liff. “The words breakeven are never mentioned in the report… People are only quoting your expert opinion that the MXE loses money” and saying the City would “be better off if we just completely eliminated it from the City.” He asked Liff if he thought the City would be better off if the MXE was eliminated.
“No,” Liff replied.
“Of course not, you don’t and that’s my concern,” Richardson said.
Samuelian said, “From a financial standpoint, we’re spending a lot of money there.” He called it a “tricky game” to try to determine why people come to Miami Beach. “It’s a very complex question.” He added, “I think we have a broad recognition that we want to bring change to that area under all circumstances.”
Richardson agreed it is difficult to make those determinations, but said, “The reason it’s so important to me… I do not believe that the Police have been given adequate resources in the MXE and I question whether or not the resources may have been more limited because people are pointing to these types of reports and saying we’re losing money in the MXE and it’s costing us more to operate the MXE than we’re producing in revenue and that is absolutely false… I wouldn’t want important decisions about resource allocations to be made on the basis of a false or incomplete analysis.”
During public comment, resident Wayne Roberts said, “You don’t have to have a PhD to figure out the economics of this MXE is actually worse, not better, based on a wider view. Fifty eight percent of the crime happens in the MXE… People avoid Miami Beach because of the MXE. Hotels are losing money, not gaining money.”
David Wallack, owner of Mango’s Tropical Café, said, “It’s a shame that there’s so much deceptive speech even today by people… Economic impact is the standard method by which all entertainment events are reviewed.” He said in 2018, Mango’s “had one million checks, one million people just at Mangos Tropical Café and out of that million, 50% minimum were repeat customers, 10% minimum were people who came to Miami Beach only to come to Mango’s Tropical Café every night of their stay.” He cited Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau data that indicates guests spend an average $1,000 per day in the area during their stay.
Irene Bigger, one of the founders of the new residents group, SOBESAFE, said, “As a resident, it is very difficult to walk down Ocean Drive … it is truly difficult and it is an embarrassment … I do not want us to support a current business plan that attracts visitors and a lot of crime to Miami Beach.” She said she wants to see an “analysis of how much revenue comes in from the taxpaying residents that actually avoid the area and go elsewhere.”
Sunset Harbour resident Bruce Backman argued there has been “tax revenue lost due to decreased property values” and he noted “spillover effects” of the crowd and crime moving into the South of Fifth neighborhood. With the emphasis on Police resources in the MXE, he questioned the “policing lost to our area because so much is devoted to the MXE.”
Ocean Drive resident Jane Krupp, newly appointed to a Mayor’s Panel on the Art Deco Cultural District, said the numbers being discussed “are all over the map. It’s a body without a head at this point. In general, the MXE is only going to survive as a police state with a cop on every corner because that’s the only way it can be safe and until its changed to an arts and culture district we’re never going to be able to measure anything about revenues or crime. It just escalates until we will have a police state.”
City Manager Jimmy Morales, whose last day was Friday before leaving to take on the role of Chief Operating Officer under Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, assured Richardson and the Commission that the previous report was “not used to deny a single resource to the MXE” citing increased police dollars of “millions and millions.”
“We never withheld from the Police anything they thought was needed,” he said.
Gelber said while the discussion was helpful, the debate is not going to be over the financial analyses. “What we’re really going to be debating over the next few months is what we’re comfortable with and what we’re proud of and what we want [the area] to be.”
“I love so many of the operators and the passion they have for our city and I’m very grateful for them. I really am,” he said. “At the end of the day, I think our residents and I think our city leaders are saying we’ve gotta reconfigure this in a serious way.”
Any financial advantages of the current model, he said, are “not worth it… we’ve really gotta not be swayed from our path of reimagining this in a very substantial way.” While important to be informed by the studies, he said, the City should not rely on any one of them but rather rely “on our judgment as city leaders that we’re not comfortable with what we’re seeing right now and it’s just not who we are, so I hope whatever we take from this we don’t change our – I believe – our unanimous interest in reimagining our Entertainment District as an Art Deco Cultural District because I think that’s got to be the future of our city.”
On Saturday, South Florida mayors called on Congress to bring help to those most affected by the pandemic.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said, “This is not a Republican issue. It’s not a Democratic issue. It is about food insecurity about the most elemental needs of families in our country and we are urging Congress today to get together, put this package together and allow us to continue to help people who right now are confronting the most elemental challenges that a family can confront.”
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