Historic Virginia Key Beach Park could be the site of Ultra Music Festival, after it was voted out of its 18-year home of Bayfront Park.
Miami City Commissioners late September unanimously voted against giving Ultra a five-year contract to stay in the park where it had grown into an international event, attended by hundreds of thousands of people.
On Thursday, Miami Commissioners will consider Ultra Music Festival’s move to Marine Stadium and Virginia Key Beach, the restored Black beach and home to Miami’s proposed African-American museum. It will take four out of the five affirmative votes for the resolution to move forward. If it passes, the year-to-year lease agreement would be effective immediately. After five years, the city and Ultra can revisit the contract. Under the agreement, Event Entertainment Group Inc. will pay the city of Miami $1.4 million annually, which will increase by 3 percent each year that Ultra stays. The city manager can revoke the lease if it gives Ultra “at least 364 days notice prior to the next scheduled event.”
But already stakeholders are questioning whether Ultra is right for Virginia Key.
Ultra, with features all genres of electronic Dance Music or EDM, was founded in Miami in 1999. It is marking it 20th year in operations.
Ultra spokesman Ray Martinez said that he wasn’t surprised when the Miami commissioners said no to Bayfront Park, “given the climate, but Bayfront Park had always been our No. 1 choice.”
Multi-day outdoor music festivals have had a hard time in downtown Miami. As Miami’s skyscrapers got occupants, residents complained about too much traffic, too much noise and too many people.
For instance, Rolling Loud, a hip-hop music festival, faced cancellation in 2017 after it was approved to use Bayfront Park for its three-day event that featured Kendrick Lamar and Future. A lawsuit allowed the festival to continue for its expected 40,000 guests.“We were kind of prepared for the possibility,” Martinez said.
The owners want to keep the festival in Miami, though they have looked at locations as far south as Homestead and sites north in Broward County. The eyed Virginia Key for its similarities to Bayfront Park with a water view.
If approved, Ultra will put three of its stages on Virginia Key Beach Park and five on the side of Marine Stadium side, including the main stage. The show’s noise level has a cap of 110 decibels, which is nearly what it sounds like when a jet takes off and is consistent with the noise levels at rock concerts, according to a noise study by Purdue University.
The festival, scheduled to take place March 29-March 31, 2019, draws lovers of EDM to Miami. Ticket prices run in the hundreds of dollars. Organizers said an analysis of the 2018 festival showed an economic impact of $162 million on Miami.
Part of the deal is that Miami will collect $1.4 million in rent and a premium of 3 percent after 3,000 free or sold tickets are issued.
The idea is that some of the rent will be shared with the Virginia Key Beach Park Trust to provide sustaining revenue for a planned African-American museum.
Neither Ultra nor the city knows how the funds will be divvied up.
“That will be negotiated later,” said a Miami spokesman.
“The Ultra Music Festival on Historic Virginia Key Beach can provide the needed revenue stream to allow for the operations of the proposed African-American History Museum,” said Miami City Manager Emilio T. Gonzalez in a prepared statement. “Once this revenue stream is secured, it is up to Miami-Dade County to follow through with its obligation to our African-American community and go forward with its promise to fund the construction of this very needed museum.”
Virginia Key Beach Park has a storied past and is in the National Register of Historic Places. It was known as Virginia Beach, when it opened on Aug. 1, 1945. In 1982, the city closed the park, attributing it to the “high cost of maintenance and operations.” It was restored and reopened February 2008, which reminisces of the past and new features. The area’s natural environment has been restored and the Trust works on its preservation.
Martinez said that there are certain parts of the park that will be off limits to their guests and they plan to respect it.
But Mayor-elect of Key Biscayne Michael Davey is not having it. In a recording, Davey flat out said Ultra is “wrong” for Virginia Key, because of drug-related crimes, traffic and damage to the environment. He points to the unanimous vote that “evicted” Ultra from Bayfront Park as reasons why he doesn’t want Ultra to cross the Rickenbacker Causeway.
Ultra’s Martinez fired back Sunday, saying Davey’s statements were "knowingly false and misleading” and wonders why Davey “didn’t first seek to collaborate with either Ultra or the city of Miami” and objected to the “criminalizing” of Ultra’s patrons. Martinez said the festival has come a long way in creating a safe environment for its patrons, pointing to27 arrests over the three days in 2018.
Ultra received support from Guy Forchion, executive director, Historic Virginia Key Beach Park Trust: [t]he Ultra Music Festival carries some controversies ... [it] represents a potential opportunity to advance the Trust’s master plan and mission ... .”
City manager Gonzalez said Miami is committed to working with Ultra and the Trust.
“The City of Miami remains committed to working with the promoters of the Ultra Music Festival and the Virginia Key Beach Trust to honor the environmental and historic legacy of Virginia Key and help bring the African-American History Museum from a longstanding dream into reality,” he said.