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Miami Beach makes 11th-hour decision to close parking lots, garages during spring break

The Miami Beach City Commission voted Wednesday to prevent visitors from using public parking garages and lots in South Beach during two weekends in March, a major new initiative on the eve of spring break that goes further than measures the city had approved last month.

Officials had previously said city-owned garages and parking lots in the entertainment district would close after 6 p.m. to everyone except Miami Beach residents and employees from March 7-10 and March 14-17, the weekends that are expected to bring the highest volume of visitors.

But during a discussion Wednesday to approve other measures related to spring break — namely, a $100 flat parking rate for visitors in city garages and lots in South Beach — Commissioner David Suarez suggested that the city go further and shut down those parking options entirely.

“We’re telegraphing to Florida and the world that we’re shutting it down, and we really mean it this time,” Suarez said. “The more extreme the shutdown, the more effective the global media attention we’re going to have.”

Suarez’s resolution passed 5-1, with Commissioner Laura Dominguez opposed. Commissioner Tanya Katzoff Bhatt was absent from the meeting because of a family emergency.

The measure applies to four parking garages in South Beach’s entertainment district: G1 (Seventh Street and Collins Avenue), G2 (12th Street and Washington Avenue), G3 (13th Street and Collins Avenue) and G4 (16th Street between Collins and Washington avenues). While parking in those garages will be limited to residents and employees, public surface parking lots in the entertainment district will be shut down to everyone, said city parking director Monica Beltran.

The entertainment district, also known as the Art Deco Cultural District, is between Fifth and 23rd streets along Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue and Washington Avenue. Private parking in South Beach will not be affected.

It wasn’t immediately clear how city residents and employees who work at businesses in South Beach would be able to prove they are eligible to park in the restricted garages. The city has said police will be present at city garages during weekends in March, and Beltran said additional staff will be needed to oversee the operation.

Officials also sought Wednesday to prevent people who can’t find parking in South Beach from parking in residential areas outside the entertainment district. The commission voted for a $100 parking rate and 6 p.m. closures in public garages and lots south of 42nd Street and outside of the entertainment district during the second and third weekends of March, and a $30 rate during other March weekends, with an exception for residents and employees. The Miami Beach Convention Center parking garage will also be exempt.

Commissioner Alex Fernandez, who proposed the measures outside the entertainment district, said they would include garages and lots in the South of Fifth, West Avenue and Sunset Harbour neighborhoods, as well as further north in Mid Beach.

Certain details of the plan remain unclear. After the vote on Wednesday, city officials were attempting to clarify some of the finer points, including whether some garages and lots outside the entertainment district would be closed entirely to non-residents and employees.

Beltran said the move could be problematic for non-residents driving to doctors’ appointments or other obligations in Mid-Beach. But Fernandez said that’s a necessary consequence of trying to shut down spring break.

“I’m sorry, we all have to pay a sacrifice here,” he said. “Those doctors should call their patients and say, ‘Hey, we have to reschedule.’”

Multiple officials voted for the closures despite expressing reservations about the 11th-hour vote to change the city’s approach, which was not included on the publicly noticed agenda for Wednesday’s meeting.

Mayor Steven Meiner said it was “not the ideal way to do business” or make a “major policy decision,” though he ultimately voted in favor.

“This is a major change from what we had,” Meiner said. “This should not be on the fly.”

Dominguez also questioned the hasty decision and wondered what the implications could be for people staying at hotels without parking or trying to use a valet.

READ MORE: Miami Beach wants to ‘break up’ with spring break. How the city will try to do it

City Manager Alina Hudak said she believed the parking closures would be helpful in the city’s efforts to tame the chaotic atmosphere of spring break.

Fernandez asked city administrators about the potential for “unintended consequences,” such as visitors trying to park in residential neighborhoods. But Beltran said she was confident the city’s enhanced staffing plan, along with double towing rates of $516 during March, would prevent that.

Suarez said the city should embrace any measure that could potentially prevent a shooting. There have been several shootings during spring break in recent years, including two deadly incidents on Ocean Drive in 2023.

“I think the question is, do we really want to put a price on [preventing] a shooting?” Suarez said. “We’re on the doorstep of spring break. Now is the time to make decisive and bold steps.”

The commission on Wednesday also discussed the possibility of holding a special meeting on March 4 to discuss restrictions on hours for alcohol sales, an idea officials had previously shot down last month.

‘Breaking up with spring break’

Last month, the commission voted for a series of measures that will mean harsh consequences for misbehavior — and discomfort even for those who simply want to have a good time. That includes the closure of outdoor sidewalk cafes during the second and third weekends of March, the use of license plate readers for drivers entering Miami Beach and limits on street parking in South Beach.

During the first, fourth and fifth weekends of March, there will be a flat $30 parking rate at city garages and surface lots.

The city has also told visitors to “expect curfews,” which would need to be implemented as part of an emergency declaration by Hudak.

READ MORE: Miami Beach commission votes preemptively for spring break curfews, beach restrictions

In an online messaging campaign and at a press conference last week, the city declared that it is “breaking up with spring break,” though it walked a fine line in its messaging, insisting that Miami Beach is still welcoming to visitors while forecasting a huge police presence and an aggressive enforcement approach.

On Wednesday, Meiner said he believes potential visitors are hearing about the city’s plans to shut down spring break.

“I’ve got confirmation that word has gotten out around the country that we’ve taken these robust measures,” he said.

This story has been updated to clarify the parking restrictions the City Commission approved outside the entertainment district below 42nd Street.