Ultra Music Festival has grown from a small upstart to a worldwide EDM phenomenon hosting the music industry’s most well-known acts. As it experiences growing pains within the City of Miami, can it reconcile its thirst for growth with the needs of a municipality?
Ultra Music Festival began on Miami Beach (In Collins Park, pictured above) in 1999 with an attendance of 10,000 people. After 2 years, it moved from the Beach to its longtime home in downtown Miami. In 2018, it had an attendance of over 150,000 people. Bayfront Park (pictured above) offered the music festival many methods of transportation including the metro-rail, metro-mover, 2 major highways, buses, and multiple walkable hotels. However, the permanent residents of downtown Miami were against the festival, citing noise and traffic issues. Many would even leave their homes during the festival.
In 2019, the City of Miami commission kicked Ultra out of its longtime home in Bayfront Park. After a mad scramble for sites, the City unanimously approved a site on Virginia Key. The Virginia Key site purely offended residents of the Village of Key Biscayne, whose voters do not elect City of Miami commissioners.
Many cited the predictable issues that would occur (including this sartorial Miami Herald piece). Lack of adequate transportation off of the island forced many to walk across the Rickenbacker Causeway. Also, reverberations from the noise disturbed the abundant wildlife in the bay, including the fish at the UM Marine Science campus.
In May 2019, Ultra canceled their contract with the City of Miami. This marks the 3rd festival in 2 years that moved beyond of City of Miami limits. Both the Miami Open and Rolling Loud Music festivals left their respective locations for the space and predictability of Hard Rock Stadium. The traffic, noise, and parking issues were softened as a result. However, the site has little public transit access or hotel/residential units nearby.
This also begs the question, can the City of Miami be host to any large event, or will they not be able to come to a nuanced decision on their own. Ultra Music Festival announced that they will remain in South Florida, but have not yet selected a site. Here are a few options that they could consider:
1. Hard Rock Stadium
They could follow the example of the Miami Open and Rolling Loud and make their way to Miami Gardens for sunshine and suburban views. It offers easy highway access, and ample parking.
2. Homestead Speedway
The Homestead City Council approved late night activities at the Speedway, opening it up to signing a contract with Ultra. Sound will not be an issue at this speedway, used to loud events with attendees in the hundred thousands.
3. Melreese Park
If Beckham’s group truly wants to make their site a year-round activities site, creating ample park space that can be converted into a festival ground might be the best use of space for the community and the many events that want to call Miami home. With access to 2 highways, the Metrorail line, and the loud sound from the airport, this space may end up making the most sense.
Wherever Ultra ends up, the City needs to make space to nurture the many events and festivals that want to call Miami home, without causing massive inconveniences to its residents. Tourism provides the region with abundant tax revenues, small business startup, and jobs, and these festivals help to boost that impact. Miami’s leaders must show creativity in negotiations and work with large events to come up with mutually beneficial solutions for all, or these events will begin to leave, taking dollars and talent with them.