Florida judge favors pre-dawn partying in rowdy South Beach

MIAMI — A South Florida judge has sided with the Clevelander hotel in a lawsuit over a new Miami Beach law that sets a 2 a.m. closing time in the South Beach entertainment district.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Circuit Judge Beatrice Butchko said in a hearing on Monday that the city commission’s vote to approve the law wasn’t properly executed. The new law aimed at curbing the late-night partying on South Beach went into effect May 22 for a period of seven months. The entertainment district had been serving alcohol until 5 a.m.

“It was arbitrary, it is a violation of local ordinances, and that was unlawful,” Butchko ruled. The judge said the ordinance was presented as a general ordinance that requires a simple majority, but should have been pitched as a land-development regulation that requires broader commission support, the Miami Herald reported.

Gelber, who led the move to overhaul the South Beach party scene following a rowdy spring break, said in a statement that the city will appeal. The mayor said the early-morning alcohol sales and unregulated music have encouraged a lawless party atmosphere that extends onto the streets.

“Our residents should not be held prisoner to a business model that promotes the all-night hard partying that has generated an unsafe atmosphere in our city,” Gelber wrote. “We will appeal as it makes no sense, legal or otherwise, that the courts would force our residents to endure this kind of misconduct and disorder.”

Attorney Kendall Coffey, who represented the Clevelander, told the newspaper that the 2 a.m. policy won’t officially be revoked until he drafts an order for the city to review, which will then go to the judge for approval. Meanwhile, he said they hope the city won’t enforce it in view of the judge’s order.

The commission voted to add a citywide voter referendum to the November ballot that would make the restrictions permanent. A second vote is needed to put the issue on the ballot.

The judge ruled that the Clevelander, which has an outdoor bar along Ocean Drive, has a right to play music above ambient levels, but said the city and the hotel should reach an agreement about the noise levels.

“It is a very serious, widely respected venue, that has as a part of its brand outdoor entertainment,” Coffey said during the hearing. Without the outdoor party, he said, “there’s really no Clevelander as any kind of identifiable shape or form.”

Coffey also said the Clevelander has been unfairly blamed for the behavior of some tourists. The 2 a.m. last call and noise limits would hurt the hotel’s bottom line, Coffey said. The closure of Ocean Drive to traffic as a COVID-19 emergency measure already hurts business, he said.

The judge didn’t order Ocean Drive reopened, but encouraged the hotel and city to work on a plan to allow access for hotel guests.