Alcohol rollback on Ocean Drive pits developers against business owners

Temporary 2 a.m. last call ends in December unless residents vote to make it permanent

Don Peebles, Jorge Perez and Barry Sternlicht with the Clevelander hotel (Getty, iStock)
Don Peebles, Jorge Perez and Barry Sternlicht with the Clevelander hotel (Getty, iStock)

The Miami Beach City Commission’s vote to roll back alcohol hours in South Beach to 2 a.m. was met with support from prominent developers Jorge Pérez, Don Peebles and Barry Sternlicht, as well as the threat of a lawsuit from the Clevelander hotel.

The commission voted to move up last call by three hours from 5 a.m. only in the mixed entertainment district, between Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue south of 16th Street. Miami Beach residents and property owners, including Sternlicht, advocated for a citywide closing time of 2 a.m.

The order will remain in effect until Dec. 8, unless residents vote to make it permanent via a referendum in November. The developers argued that the party atmosphere is detrimental to Miami Beach’s economy and its real estate market.

The vote to roll back alcohol hours passed 4 to 3, and a referendum for a permanent closing passed unanimously.

Sternlicht, whose developments include the 1 Hotel South Beach and his Starwood Capital Group’s headquarters, said Miami Beach now has a reputation as being an out-of-control place, filled with violence and twerking, where people party all night.

“None of this is good for the image of Miami Beach,” he said, adding that residents are fearful of being victims of crime late at night and that his home was recently burglarized overnight.

Peebles, who developed the Royal Palm Hotel and the Residences at the Bath Club, said nightclubs were fine when South Beach was trying to attract businesses and developers, but now it has become a detriment.

“These nightclubs… have continued to fight off any kind of regulatory oversight of them for decades. They take so much more from communities than what they give,” Peebles said.

Pérez said the perception of South Beach being an all-night party place has complicated his efforts to bring businesses to Miami Beach. His company, the Related Group, plans to build a Class A office tower on Terminal Island in Miami Beach.

“We are in a very important point in the development of South Florida. We have a huge capacity to attract high paying jobs,” Pérez continued. But its current nightlife reputation “harms our ability to attract the types of businesses we want to bring to Miami Beach to continue to flourish as a great city.”

Attorneys for club owners spoke out against the 2 a.m. rollback, claiming that it will harm their clients’ investments.

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Alex Tachmes, attorney for the Clevelander South Beach at 1020 Ocean Drive, claimed this was the most significant legislation in 30 years and could result in loss of revenue for businesses, massive layoffs, and an “immediate signal to international tourism that nightlife [on South Beach] is dead.” Tachmes later told the Miami Herald that the Clevelander’s owners intended to sue the city.

Tachmes declined to comment on the upcoming litigation.

Attorney Monika Entin said her client, the developer of the Park Central Celino Hotel on Ocean Drive, invested millions of dollars on the promise they run a nightlife operation,

“They obtained a CUP [conditional use permit] for a business that allowed them to stay open in the interior until 5 a.m. This does away with that,” Entin said.

In a speech lasting several minutes, David Wallack, owner of Mango’s Tropical Café, insisted that the disorder was being caused by people bringing in their own alcohol and drugs and then partying on the street. Wallack also pointed out that South Beach was under a midnight curfew during Spring Break, and reminded the commission that 67 percent of the electorate supported keeping bars open on Ocean Drive until 5 a.m. in a referendum five years ago.

Wallack questioned why Washington Avenue wasn’t included and suspected it was because of influence from Scott Robins, Peebles’ business partner, who owns property on Washington, as well as David Grutman, whose new Goodtime Hotel recently opened.

“They have more murders and stabbings in Espanola Way than anywhere else in Miami Beach,” Wallack later added.

Most spoke in favor of the rollback.

“We can have an entertainment district where no one wants to live … or we can have a live, work and enjoy district. We can’t have both,” said Ken Koppel of SoBe Safe.

Mayor Dan Gelber has been pushing for the replacement of the entertainment district with an Art Deco Cultural District. Gelber, commissioners Mark Samuelian, Steven Meiner, and Micky Steinberg voted in favor of the rollback. Commissioners Michael Gongora, Ricky Arriola, and David Richardson voted against.

Commissioner Michael Gongora questioned the effectiveness of an alcohol rollback for the limited geographic area, where 55 bars and clubs operate.

“Have the voters come back and tell us they changed [their minds] in the last three-and-a-half years,” Gongora said. “I will respect their will.”