Notice a huge firework display over Downtown Miami? Can you hear the uhntz uhntz uhntz? No? You will — and soon. And you will hear it again and again this year, for two weekends, especially if you live or work anywhere near Downtown Miami.
In a dubious display of decency, the producers of the Ultra Music Festival, in partnership with the Bayfront Management Trust, agreed in private last year to expand the music festival from one weekend to two weekends without any advance notice to local residents, business owners, or the Miami City Commission,. Then, the producers of Ultra dropped their big announcement on the public through the press and began to sell tickets.
By the time local businesses and residents realized what they pulled off, it was too late to do anything about it. In January, the Miami City Commission, lead by Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, belatedly tried to cancel the second weekend of Ultra with the following complaint:
[The event] will be disruptive to the local business community and area residents due to noise, nuisance behavior by festival goers, and grid locked traffic … [O]ne weekend of disruption may be tolerable to residents and the business community, but two weekends will cause disruptions in work in local offices and create difficulty in accessing residential buildings.
Was the Commissioner placating his constituents with the complaint? Maybe. But good for him! Two weekends of Ultra is too many, it indeed represents a nuisance and, honestly, it’s disruptive to the quality of life of anyone who lives or works in the area.
Miami is growing too much as a city — intellectually and culturally — to disrupt its quality of life for the world’s biggest rave. It’s regressive and a step backwards for the downtown corridor.
The complaint was eventually voted on and of course it was rejected by the full Commission — how could they not reject it? Ultra producers had already begun selling tickets, there was a huge backlash from festival goers, artists, and EDM (electronic dance music) agent provocateurs. The show had to go on. But shame on the Bayfront Management Trust and the producers of Ultra for their hubris in not meeting with local residents and businesses about the extra weekend.
You can argue: Ultra will bring a ton of money to the area, probably more than $100 million; the producers have agreed to up the police force and provide for cleaning services; and yes, Ultra is a fun event. There are plenty of pros for a music festival, but six days spread out over two weekends in the relatively tiny heart of Downtown Miami, during the peak of the city’s Spring Break influx, is too much. A big part of Bayfront Park has already been closed, and will be closed for awhile after the event, making this is a month-long inconvenience for residents.
This complaint will not touch on the lifestyle choices of those who attend Ultra this year (an expected record of 400,000 people). But it will and should touch on the quality of life for local residents.
Which brings me to the noise. It’s just too much. It’s unprecedented actually. Every other large music festival in the country (Coachella, Bonnaroo, Wakarusa, Burning Man) takes place in the middle of nowhere. As far as I’m concerned, Ultra could run for 60 days if it happened out in the Everglades.
One may try to compare Ultra to Chicago’s Lollapalooza, held in Grant Park, also downtown and on a body of water, but Lollapalooza is one weekend, not two, and Grant Park is five times bigger than Bayfront Park. Grant Park is also separated from residential condos and hotels by a wide avenue. Ultra, on the other hand, will be taking place practically on top of Downtown Miami.
It’s unheard of.
I don’t want to be a wet rag. This year, it’s happening and that’s that. People should have fun, be safe, and hopefully it all goes down without a hitch. But next year, Ultra should confer with residents and local businesses before making a decision that affects their quality of life. To not do so is a quick way to wear out your franchise.
Update: On Thursday, at 10:40 p.m., an Ultra spokesperson sent out the following message via email blast: “Today (Thursday, March 14) as preparations were being made for this weekend’s Ultra Music Festival, a section of an LED screen fell and injured two workers. Fire Rescue was on site so there was a rapid response. Festival organizers are working with, and supporting, authorities as they investigate the details behind the accident.”
J.J. Colagrande is an adjunct professor at Barry University and Miami-Dade College and the author of Headz, a novel. You can follow him on Twitter at @jjcolagrande.