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Is Miami The New Capital of Entertainment?

An interview with City of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado on the future of entertainment in his jurisdiction.

By Craig K. Skilling / Photographed by Imani Ogden

On a sunny South Florida day, in his Coconut Grove office with a view fit for a mayor overlooking Biscayne Bay, Miami’s outspoken government official, City of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado sits with MSM to discuss the future of entertainment in his jurisdiction. “I don’t agree that (Las) Vegas is the only place for entertainment. Miami has its own niche in terms of entertainment,” says Mayor Tomás Regalado. “Miami I think is the capitol of entertainment for the Latin community,” says the mayor. The mayor’s Film & Cultural Affairs Administrator Vicente “Vinnie” Betancourt, also present in the room, mentions that Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and the entire Rat Pack had an impact on live entertainment in Miami and South Beach before taking their talents to the Las Vegas strip.

Many from around the globe are familiar with the major electronic music festival that takes place annually called Ultra. It’s been approximately fifteen year’s since the festival’s modest inception on ocean drive in south beach. This past year in downtown Miami the internationally recognized dance festival that coincides with college spring break, brought in well over a quarter of a million dollars in revenue to the City of Miami economy but was faced with controversy and several complaints by downtown Miami residents. The mayor says he has been very clear on his position and that “the Ultra music festival organizers will need to be safer moving forward or risk being moved from their downtown location.”

“This will be the last test because you cannot afford the various problems in downtown, an area that boasts 13,000 residents in the Ultra area alone. These are residents of downtown who are very marketing oriented in terms of attending our local sport venues, museums, the (Adrienne) Arsht Center. These are people who are mostly professionals or retired professionals and they want a quality of life that they demand from us which is why they pay so much taxes,” says the mayor.

When asked why Ultra is returning to downtown Miami for another year since he feels so strongly about moving the festival out of downtown, he responded by saying, “The mayor and commissioner do not vote.”

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The city commission voted to give them (Ultra) another chance and there was nothing we could do.” He then stated, “Hopefully they come back ready because some people died and when people die that is a game changer.”

When asked if there was ever a formal plan put into place to spawn the rapid growth of entertainment in Miami as a whole, he responded by saying, “We never had a plan for entertainment. Everything has been market driven. The success of our professional (basketball) team the Miami Heat, the Arsht Center, Wynwood galleries, second Saturdays of the month where 30,000 people walk the same streets of Wynwood, would not have happened six years ago due to crime but is all happening and thriving today due to the people driving the market,” states the mayor.

The mayor explained that the entertainment district, Parkwest, was approved for nightclubs to be open twenty four hours a day and how the city approved and facilitated the bid for the business improvement district. “Basically, property owners pay more taxes but use the tax increment as they wish not as the government wishes,” explains the mayor. The incentive has been made evident in Wynwood and Coconut Grove where entertainment and business has expanded. Again the mayor points out that everything that happens is truly market driven.

The one area that some City of Miami residents still have a concern for is public safety. There have been reports that the City of Miami police department is being downsized and has several vacant positions to fill upon budget approval. The mayor admits that “what has to happen is to take public safety to a higher level and make it impossible for criminals to be downtown with this rapid growth taking place.”

Some South Florida and downtown residents specifically may recall a time when the homeless would flood the downtown streets panhandling. When the mayor was asked, How did you handle this? he replied by saying, “compassion but not tolerance”. “The City of Miami went to court to change a mandate that was done by the Federal court many years ago and are getting ready to move the homeless and take them to shelters to clear out the area completely, even by force (if necessary),” the mayor explains.

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The mayor mentions he is very excited about the sci- ence museum downtown that will bring more people to the area especially families. This is a big initiative for Mayor Regalado and he envisions over 100,000 students and children visiting the area and museum over the next school year. “The vision is for Downtown Miami to be an educational and festive entertainment center highlighted by a museum park, the Adrienne Arsht Center, sport- ing events and concerts,” explains the mayor. The mayor stated that Miami has its very own Walk of Fame. It is located in the heart of downtown Miami, at the Bayside Market place which is the number one tourist attraction with over 20 million visitors throughout the year. They recently hosted the inaugural Brito designed Walk of Fame celebration this past spring for inductees including the Rio 2 film, along with Academy and Grammy award winning actor, singer and songwriter Jamie Foxx and actor and Miamian Andy Garcia. The official Miami Walk of Fame will continue to honor those who have contributed to the charisma, worldwide prominence and name recognition of Miami through film/television, music, sports or honorary means. The mayor says, “The film industry looks at Miami as an important place to be with our colorful sites, beautiful weather and more. It is sad that the Florida State government does not facilitate and provide more benefits. We facilitate issuing over seven hundred permits per year along with supporting the Miami Dade College International Film Festival, the Spanish Film Festival, Women’s International Film Festival and the Children’s Short Film Festival among others,” says the mayor.

“Miami could be somewhat like Hollywood in a small way. We do not want to take away Hollywood’s history, we just want to give them a run for their money,” says both the mayor and Mr. Betancourt. Mr. Betancourt mentions that off of 14th street in downtown Miami a studio will be built and a CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency) executive has been appointed to the film commission for the State of Florida by the Governor. So needless to say Miami is truly looking to give Hollywood a run for their money!

It would seem that with so much real estate being developed, adding additional entertainment facilities would be a long shot. Not necessarily says the mayor. “There is one prime piece of real estate, the old Miami Herald building on land owned by the Genting Group from Malaysia.” The Genting Group has been principally involved in the leisure and hospitality business covering theme parks, gaming, hotels, seaside resorts and entertainment for over 45 years. They (The Genting Group) tried to get approval from the city to issue a license and build one of the largest casinos here in the US except the city does not have the authority to issue a license; only the state can approve. The city of Miami does have the Magic City casino, formerly Flagler Dog track, and further down in southwest Miami the Miccosukee Resort and Gaming, but if the Genting group continues to lobby and successfully receives approval from the State, this would surely take the City of Miami to the next level offering high end entertainment. The mayor assures that they (The Genting Group) will not sit on that land and expects a ground breaking high rise hotel/condo project with possibly one of the largest rooftop pools in the nation to be built in the not too distant future. “It is prime real estate and one of the last water front properties in the downtown Miami area so one could be looking at well over 300 million dollars to buy the land alone,” says the mayor with a smile.

When asked if the Mayor was a soccer fan, he replies, “I will be once we have a team. I believe and understand that soccer is the future. We have over 113 parks in the City of Miami and more than twenty of them have soccer academies.” When asked what challenges are preventing a deal to build and bring an MLS (Major League Soccer) team to Miami, the Mayor replies, “The challenges are not that big… what the Beckham people want specifically cannot happen. The water space in downtown Miami belongs to the people and not a private enterprise. There is plenty of land over by the old Orange Bowl side…it’s up to them… we said sorry and they understood. They do not want to be adversaries to the people that are going to be their neighbors. I think it will happen because again the market shows that the people want it,” says the mayor strongly.

There was once a time when South Floridians were mutually excited for the Marlins and baseball like they are about soccer and professional basketball. The excitement helped to start a debate and ultimately assisted in getting the then championship winning Florida Marlins, (now the Miami Marlins) with their very own ball park. Mayor Regalado grew up surrounded by baseball in Cuba. As for his thoughts on the present day Miami Marlins, he explains, “The Marlins need to recapture the passion that the people lost. They betrayed the people. They won the championship and then sold the players and then they duped the people of Miami and Miami Dade saying they were poor. We built the new ballpark and then realized they (Marlins organization) were making money. They have to regain the heart and soul of the people. It’s about trust,” says the mayor emphatically.

“The soccer team in Miami will start from zero, from scratch!” “People love soccer. Go to Brickell, Coral Gables or Miami Avenue during one of the World Cup matches and you will see crowds lined up, dressed in team colors dining and drinking in our restaurants.” To reinforce that Miami is shaping up to be a global entertainment destination the mayor tells that he recently had a trip to the country of Spain to continue to promote Miami. “Miami has well over two hundred Spanish (Latin) owned businesses based in the City of Miami which represent nearly half of the total around the US (United States),” says the mayor.

The mayor confidently says “in the next two or three years the entertainment sector in Miami will see more restaurants incorporating some form of entertainment and we will be a special place for entertainment. There is going to be a percentage shift of tourism from focusing on the beaches and sun to equally focusing on entertainment. The goal is to be 50/50 beaches and sun to entertainment in Miami.”

Visitors and south Florida residents alike of any and all ages can rest assure that the City of Miami is the place to be and quite possibly the new leading global destination when it comes to entertainment.

Click here to view post on the Sept/Oct 2014 issue.

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