Op-ed: The uber hubris of Ultra

By | March 14th, 2013 | 7 Comments
Just when you thought Ultra couldn't get bigger. -- photo via facebook.com/ultrafanpage

Just when you thought the beast couldn’t get bigger… — photo via Ultra’s Facebook page

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.

7 Comments on “Op-ed: The uber hubris of Ultra”

  1. 1 Craig Chester said at 9:26 am on March 15th, 2013:

    Right on, Jay! I was savaged in many circles for suggesting that two weekends was overboard. “Miami is a party town” “Downtown needs the activity” “You are a wet rag”.

    But you drive the point home. I am particularly aghast that Ultra will commandeer a public park for all of this time, rendering it inaccessible well, to the public. Not to mention, it took nearly 8 months to repair all the damage to Bayfront park done by Ultra last year, which I thought was absurd too. Miami tries, but things like this make it difficult to take the city seriously. Nice article.

  2. 2 pissed off said at 12:00 pm on March 15th, 2013:

    it’s time to shut this shit down. or ultra can pay for everyone that lives in viscayne or 50 biscayne to stay in a 4 star hotel for the duration.

  3. 3 Pat Browne said at 3:02 pm on March 15th, 2013:

    Your parent named you pissed off?

  4. 4 pod said at 10:01 pm on March 16th, 2013:

    There’s a suggestion that Ultra’s use of Bayfront in this manner could be contrary to the law?


    “The irony of this is that Ultra is renting our public parks (Bayfront Park) to do so, which btw is completely illegal according to the Bert J Harris Act. In fact, the City of Miami could be liable for allowing this unfair competition by renting its land to Ultra who continuously ignores the local business owner’s and City’s requests to lift the DJ exclusivities.”

  5. 5 JJ said at 1:26 am on March 18th, 2013:

    Must say my opinion has evolved. Impressed with the way the engineers of Ultra have relatively trapped the sound. Also, traffic hasn’t been that bad. Still think the way they organized and agreed upon two weekends was sneaky. And like Chester said, it’s wrong how long it will take to fix the park. I’d wager this is the last year they get away with two weekends downtown, but Ultra has rightfully earned some respect for being a component in Miami’s Renaissance…

  6. 6 Carolina Fernandez said at 2:33 pm on March 18th, 2013:

    Let the madness rage on!

  7. 7 Chris said at 7:45 pm on April 8th, 2013:

    The problem isn’t with Ultra, it’s with this bizarre idea that entire downtown Miami apparently has to be located along Biscayne Blvd.
    A real city consists of several blocks.

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