The City of Miami Beach is enforcing a slew of safety measures, including a nightly curfew and highway shutdowns, for at least 72 hours in an attempt to control the spring break crowds that police say have been particularly rowdy this season.
"I love that this is a beautiful place, that people come here to gather and enjoy our weather and our beaches," Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said at a press conference Saturday when the measures were announced. "But right now, it has become too challenging in the tourism industry to continue that way."
An 8 p.m. curfew will be effective beginning Saturday night, encompassing Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue, Washington Avenue, and Española Way, from 5th to 16th Street. All restaurants, bars and businesses must be closed by the curfew, and police will also be clearing public right of ways.
In addition, McArthur, Venetian and Julia Tuttle causeways will all be closed as of 9 p.m. Saturday night and will not reopen until 5 a.m. the following day. One lane will be open throughout the night for residents, hotel guests and employees who work on South Beach.
"This was not an easy decision to make," City Manager Raul J. Aguila said as he outlined all the measures. "But you saw the photos from last night. It was quite simply overwhelming. It looked like a rock concert: you couldn't see pavement and you couldn't see grass."
Guests who are staying in South Beach hotels will not be asked to vacate, but the city urges them to stay on hotel premises after 8 p.m. In addition, sidewalk cafes will have to close by 7 p.m., and the city's pilot program for outdoor dining on Washington, Collins and Ocean Drive will also have to close by curfew.
"We will be calling a special commission meeting to discuss these measures and decide whether we want to keep them, modify them or adopt additional measures after 72 hours," Aguila said.
Mayor Gelber said he suspected that the volume of this year's crowds had been higher than in previous years due to the fact that "there are very few places in the country that are open" other than South Beach.
Miami Beach Police Chief Rick Clements noted that law enforcement deputies had been having a tough time controlling crowds, despite having several police departments' help.
"We've done everything we can to try and mitigate the behavior we're seeing," Clements said. He said that in one incident on Thursday night, a crowd of hundreds of people had formed a mob and began to use tables and chairs as weapons.
"Property was destroyed," the police chief said. "Then last night, we had three more (similar incidents)."
On Friday, the Clevelander hotel announced it would temporarily pause its food and beverage service amid safety concerns over recent rowdy behavior in South Beach.
"Recently, we have grown increasingly concerned with the safety of our dedicated employees and valued customers and the ability of the City to maintain a safe environment in the surrounding area," a statement read.
"We will re-evaluate the situation over the coming days and decide whether to re-open or remain temporarily closed."
The news came after a wild Thursday night on Ocean Drive that started with a fight at a restaurant and ended in multiple arrests and police shooting pepper balls to disperse a large crowd.
"We’re seeing these crowds turn on officers, we’re seeing these crowds surround the officers and we can’t wait for an officer to be attacked, we have to be proactive," Miami Beach Police Sgt. Ernesto Rodriguez said.
Despite the new measures, there have been many arrests and some violence reported, including a fatal shooting of a man earlier this week.