The irony was inescapable. When Islander News recently called County Commissioner Xavier Suarez to talk about the imminent Ultra concert on Virginia Key and his constituent residents’ fears, he was driving and dealing with a bottle neck of traffic off South Miami Avenue near the I-95 exit due to a fatal motorcycle accident on SW 17 Avenue and US 1.
XS: “I just spoke to our Chief of Police,” said Commissioner Suarez. “They are handling the fatality and all lanes are still closed on Southwest 17 Avenue and traffic is backing up on to Key Biscayne…it’s all clogged up.”
The following Q & A focused on all things Ultra.
IN: How will a repeat occurrence of these types of traffic hold ups due to Ultra be avoided?
XS: For me anything that creates major problems for the residents is to be avoided. I go back to the old days in the Washington DC area where I grew up and these concerts were always out in the country side and that’s my preference. As far as I’m concerned the Marine Stadium should be for “Pops on the Bay.”
When the International Boat Show was staged--I live right at the entrance of Key Biscayne--and I was in touch. I am one of a few public officials that has close contact with the city, my son being the mayor, and because of that I was able to stay on top of the event and this time (last boat show) it was fairly straight forward because you could see problems from the causeway.
The same kind of monitoring has to happen with Ultra. If they are not controlled and the lives of our citizens (are imperiled) it won’t happen again. Simple as that.
Commissioner Suarez then has to hang up to take a call from Mayor Francis Suarez and he calls right back.
XS: It is incredibly fortuitous that as you called then the mayor of Miami called me on the other line and we both have the same view….he compared it to a Duke basketball game...he looks at it if things don’t work out and you’ve got a better alternative, it’s one and done.
He and I both have agreed just now that we are going to check it out from the ocean side and maybe I will also run there…I’m in the condo, I can get out and be right at the bridge and so I intend to do that this year and we will monitor very closely.
I have assurances from the city that it could be one and done, potentially, in other words it is not a long term arrangement. My preference for these kinds of concerts is that they should be out in the hinterland. I feel the same way about the youth fair and felt the same way when we lost the Grand Prix downtown. There are moments when you need something like that to liven things up but now we don’t need to liven things up…to include these super festivals.
I don’t accept for myself that these are supposed to be money makers. We have an enormous tax base and we are not supposed to use these facilities as potential money makers, that’s the wrong approach. I didn’t control that aspect of it. It was not my decision.
I understand from talking to the mayor that this is going to be a trial run and he is very concerned about the noise on Brickell. We hear everything that happens on the causeway from my perch on 25th Road.
Let me say one other thing I do believe they are out of scale and I respect enormously Commissioner Hardemon and that some of the revenues will be used for the historic black beach.
The idea that we are going to rely on concerts to fund a Civil Rights Museum at the historic black beach…if anyone tells me we can’t get a foundation to take over operations…that’s just not the way I see the world. We don’t have to worry about having concerts to support a historic black beach.
IN: What assurances can you offer Key Biscayne residents about public safety concerns related to Ultra and fears that this event is a harbinger of the scale of events to come?
XS: They should be assured of the following: that this is going to be the best example (of collaboration) between city and county. In part because the county commissioner of the district happens to be the old man of the mayor of the city and we are very close and also with (Virginia Key district City Commissioner) Ken Russell and our philosophy is the same, to keep open areas as green as possible.
I don’t think we are just trying to make money from these facilities and we don’t want to make Key Biscayne crazy, its paradise, and we don’t want to drive them crazy. The former mayor and current mayor, we are a cellular phone away….Mayor Davey, Ed London, Luis Lauredo, will call me…we are all friends.
This is going to be a collaboration of all three jurisdictions.
IN: What about potential environmental damage, and safety issues with the water taxi traffic as they take concert goers off site late at night?
I know that DERM and all the appropriate agencies have given their green light and are happy about the bond (a two million dollar bond in the license agreement to be used to mitigate any resulting environmental damage caused by Ultra). It is not my preference to do these things in an area so fragile.
You have flora and fauna that is unique to that basin. I’ve studied everything under the water there and we should be very careful with the wildlife refuge and anything that disturbs that is unacceptable. I sure hope no environmental damage is done and I will be monitoring that with all of my intention.
As far as the water taxis, will they be monitored at all…that’s an excellent question and you can say that I said that and I don’t know that the marine (patrol) will be taking care of that….
Commissioner Suarez (during this follow up in person second half of the interview) texted Miami Dade County Police Director/Chief Juan J. Perez on the spot and his immediate response was:
“Our boats will be in the water. I will make sure the City has their boats as well.”
****Note to Jodie, this is for a break out box at the end of q and a please to read:
Miami Dade County Director/Chief of Police Perez presented a follow up statement to the Islander News:
“The Miami-Dade Police Department is committed to supporting both the City of Miami and Village of Key Biscayne Police Departments’ efforts to provide a safe and secure environment during the upcoming Ultra Music Festival. Although our primary role during this event is to help provide for the safe and expeditious flow of traffic to and from the event location, we stand ready to provide additional assistance should the request be made.”
Sergeant Carlos Rosario, Miami-Dade Police Department, Public Information and Education Bureau, told Islander News they expect to have nearly 150 county police officers on site with their county marine patrol monitoring the Hobie Beach side of the waterways (unless as noted by Chief Perez in the above statement, they are requested by the City to otherwise assist).