Changes in place for safe Memorial Day weekend
MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (WSVN) -- Memorial Day weekend is bringing thousands of visitors from across the country to South Beach to take in this year's Urban Beach Weekend festivities.
Officials estimate between 200,000 and 300,000 people will take part in a series of concerts and events, which have been drawing revelers to the area since 2001.
"I don't drink, but this is my first night, and I'm gonna drink for the first time," said Anthony Chavis, who is visiting from Orlando.
Ottawa, Ontario resident Luigi Sidelia said he was overwhelmed by the tropical ambiance. "The beautiful weather out here is amazing," he said. "I love the scenery and everything."
A visitor from New Jersey said he plans on "not going to sleep, being drunk all day, music, partying."
"We're from Austin, Texas, baby," said a woman walking along Ocean Drive with some friends. "Yesterday was my birthday, so I thought we'll come out, and we'll just have a ball."
Thousands are expected to show up in South Florida for the holiday weekend and the city has already made changes to accommodate the crowds and keep everyone safe.
Residential streets including North Bay Road will be closed to prevent visitors from taking short cuts around Miami Beach.
Police have closed down Ocean Drive Avenue to cars and will make it a pedestrian-only zone on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Traffic delays were reported Friday night for motorists attempting to enter Miami Beach through MacArthur Causeway.
Culinary spots like Kitchen Restaurant on Ocean Drive hired more employees to handle what they say is extra business. "We hired more people only for this weekend because we expect to have double the customers that we have in a normal week," said server Ram Carrabeo.
Pelican Restaurant manager Paulhino Marques said the increase in revenue is quite striking. "I expect to make, like, three times more money than I normally make during a weekend," he said.
Police will be using a one-way traffic zone on Collins Avenue going northbound between Fifth Street and Sixteen Street. Washington Avenue will become a southbound traffic zone only, near Fifth Street and Sixteenth Street.
Miami Beach Police spokesperson Vivian Hernandez has a message for the visitors. "Respect the scene. We are making it possible for you to enjoy it. We want you to enjoy our city," said Hernandez. "Enjoy Ocean Drive. That's a reason why we closed it off to pedestrians only, but the time that you are here, respect the people that are here year-round."
Miami Beach Police, along with the help from other departments, will have 400 officers on duty at peak times all weekend.
Authorities will also be using 21 surveillance cameras to ensure order is maintained throughout the festivities. The video is beamed live to a command center at the Miami Beach Convention Center. "So, if we have a call of a fight on the street, before we send resources there or send them in an emergency mode, we can actually see if it is a fight or just somebody dancing in the street," said Miami Beach Police Sgt. Bobby Hernandez.
License plate readers will be on the lookout for stolen vehicles and wanted criminals that are linked to that specific car tag.
Special ATVs with night vision will patrol the beach when it closes down at midnight.
Police said they will have no tolerance for alcohol in public. A DUI checkpoint will be in place for cars coming into Miami Beach. Last year, police arrested six people.
On Friday night, a male visitor remarked, "No one is acting a fool," a reference to the violent behavior that has marked prior years' festivities.
In 2011, a suspected gunman was shot and killed by Miami Beach Police on Washington Avenue. Police are hoping to avoid a similar situation from happening.
The gunman's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit on Tuesday against the city.
But for those in Miami Beach this weekend, the vibe is all about the fun to be had during their holiday in paradise. "Oh, if we got some stuff going down, it's nothing, brush it off our shoulder and keep it moving," said one visitor from Chicago. She added, "We very excited. We come out here to have fun, kick it on the strip, drink."
Another tourist from Chicago said, "They mad cause we out here and they ain't." He added, "We came out here to get tore up and enjoy Memorial weekend."
Washington, D.C. visitor Anita Writht said this is not her first visit to Urban Beach Weekend. "I've been here a long time ago, when I used to be a young woman," she said. "So this is, like, me and my friends' last hurrah."
You can get detailed maps of road changes on WSVN.com under the "Links Mentioned On-Air" tab on the home page.
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