Homestead City Council’s special call meeting on Tuesday May 21 had only one item of business – consideration of the Homestead-Miami Speedway’s request to extend operating hours to 2 am in order to host the Ultra festival.
Speedway President Matthew Becherer told Council that in looking for incremental revenue the track considered the possible opportunity of music festivals, one of which was Ultra. He said Miami Beach and the City of Miami were also holding meetings to sign with Ultra in the competitive festival business.
The actual request to Council was to instruct the City Manager to extend the Speedway’s operating hours from 11 pm to 2 am. Homestead Mayor Stephen Shelley got confirmation the request was specific to the Speedway’s negotiation to host the three-day Ultra festival.
The City attorney read the part of the track’s long-term lease with the City stating hours are Monday through Sunday from 7 am to 11pm. The lease allows additional hours to be considered on a case by case basis by the City Manager in his sole discretion.
Speedway’s spokesperson Al Garcia said he consulted with City Manager George Gretsas about the Ultra festival. The biggest concerns discussed were public safety and noise from an electronic dance music (EDM) show.
EDM, also known as club music, is a musical genre with lots of percussion produced especially for raves and festivals.
Garcia said the show’s average sound readings were 115 decibels. A jet take-off generates 130 decibels of sound depending on where it’s measured while a lawn mower produces 90 decibels.
Ultra has a troubled reputation due to noise, crowds, traffic problems, perceived crime issues and an association with drug culture.
Garcia said the show is expected to attract 50,000 people daily for each of three days and yield over $100 million in revenues. He offered letters of support from Miami-Dade Commissioner Dennis Moss, the hotel association and the police PBA.
Homestead Police Chief Al Rolle reported members of his staff, including a captain and major worked the Miami Ultra festival and asked them to testify. Both reported the crowds were friendly with little violence and only 37 arrests despite the large size of the event.
Councilmember Jon Burgess led the discussion on the lack of a site plan, safety concerns and the noise issue. Garcia said Ultra’s operations included permissible camping from Thursday through Monday similar to NASCAR events. He told Burgess six to eight thousand campers could be handled by the Speedway with City partnership for services like trash, roads and sanitation facilities.
Councilmember Jenifer Bailey asked about care centers and the festival medical planning with more than 600 cases over three days last year due to the heat. The Speedway had details of those capabilities along with staging for off-site transfers.
“I talked to officers who were pleasantly surprised by the culture of peace and love at Ultra,” said Bailey. “It was very clean with people picking up after themselves. I’d love to see more music festivals coming down south and something as big as this would put us on the map.”
“I’m a true fan of Ultra,” said Councilmember Elvis Maldonado. “This is a really major event that could easily grow to 100,000 plus attendees. Traffic would be the number one issue Homestead residents would be dealing with.”
Maldonado attended an EDM festival in Las Vegas this week with Manager Gretsas while at an annual trade show.
“The only issue was drugs,” said Maldonado. “Arrests are mostly for selling drugs. It’s what happens in a club, tied to an event like this. It was a peaceful event but an officer said fifty percent of the people were on drugs and I found that to be the case.”
Councilmember Julio Guzman said, “I’m concerned with the quality of life of our residents. On the issue of sound, if the event is held within the stadium there should not be any noise issue. But it’s difficult to decide when we lack information.”
Councilmember Burgess suggested a small two dollar surcharge on tickets to offset City costs associated with an Ultra festival. “Some VIP tickets average $1200 for all three days,” he said.
The Speedway’s Garcia said he would discuss ticket costs with the Ultra managers but the event was a strict rental by the track with no participation in ticket revenue.
Mayor Shelley thought a one year event would be ideal to get used to it but understood from Garcia that Ultra was looking for a ten year deal.
Council heard from ten residents mostly opposed to this festival because of safety, drugs, traffic and noise.
The spokesman for the Homestead Air Reserve Base said the early March festival date conflicted with reservist training at the base that required 360 hotel rooms. “The fireworks and lasers the show uses would need FAA waivers anyway,” he said.
Burgess talked about the economic impact for the track seeking other avenues of revenue and mentioned the old baseball stadium torn down this week.
Councilmember Larry Roth said “That was someone’s dream that we maintained for years. We must protect City assets like the Speedway so it’s not knocked down in twenty years.”
Councilmember Burgess moved that a site plan had to be approved by the City manager, the traffic and safety plans agreed to by the police department, that the city be indemnified for the event, that a festival date be agreed to by all stakeholders, and that a $2 surcharge per day per ticket be paid by the organizers to the City along with all event expenses.
After amendments, the final motion was for the City Manager to write a letter under his discretion under the Speedway lease allowing the extension of hours for Ultra with the above stipulations including the Miami contract provision that the sound level be limited to 110 decibels sixty feet from the stage.
On the final motion, Shelley, Burgess, Bailey and Roth voted yes; Maldonado and Guzman voted no.
The Speedway plans to seek three or four similar festivals per year and hopes to get Ultra to come to Homestead under these terms.