A local writer/publicist/business consultant and at least several residents are upset that Lincoln Road has become less hospitable to locals than in the past.
On April 24, Dirk DeSouza, the writer/consultant wrote an email to Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and City Manager Jimmy Morales citing a number of Lincoln Road issues.
“As a consultant to a number of Lincoln Road hospitality businesses, many of whom, even in the midst of a robust national and local economy, are experiencing actual revenue downturns amid skyrocketing costs, I’m writing to discuss the impact of the ‘entertainers’ that roam the pedestrian promenade,” DeSouza wrote.
After citing a number of other challenges business operators on Lincoln Road currently face, DeSouza provided examples of the “entertainers” he references in the email. “There’s The Snake Around His Neck Guy,” he wrote. “There’s The All Painted White Frozen Statue Girl. There’s The Guy Who Extinguishes Cigarettes On His Tongue Guy. There’s The Crazy Boombox Dancing In A Skirt Guy. There’s The Flower Selling Old Guy. There’s The Armless Guy Who Paints With His Toes. And many more.
“No local would be caught dead South of Fifth leaving Smith & Wollensky and deal with a magician hassling them in the parking lot,” DeSouza continued in his email. “No local would be caught dead leaving PB Steak and deal with a guy shoving an albino anaconda in his date’s face. In both those cases, management and the customers would probably call the police, citing harassment. The ‘entertainers’ on Lincoln also have another chilling effect – they attract children, at night transforming Lincoln Road into a giant babysitting/entertainment promenade for impoverished mainlanders who spend no money at restaurants, opting to share a slice of pizza at Rustica and clogging Lincoln until their children tire of the ‘entertainers.’ This crowd is the opposite of hip/cool/fashionable and the GMCVB ‘So Miami’ ethos. This is what happens when the sun goes down.”
Both elsewhere in the email and in a subsequent interview with SunPost, DeSouza said that Lincoln Road businesses already face a number of challenges – skyrocketing rental routes, an unprecedented concentration of restaurants, merchants and menu-hawkers accosting pedestrians and even the number of property owners on Lincoln Road.
“Aventura Mall has one owner and as I understand it, Lincoln Road has something like 60 individual owners,” he said. “So, if you’re Gucci, for example, and you’re looking at Lincoln Road, you have to take into consideration that you don’t know what kind of business could end up next to you.”
DeSouza said that the purpose of sending the email and subsequently posting it to Facebook was not to attract media attention, but rather to share with people who might be locked into their thinking when it comes to Lincoln Road.
“You wouldn’t believe what happens to Lincoln Road after the sun goes down,” said DeSouza. He indicated that Lincoln Road has long been the unofficial main street for locals on South Beach and now that traffic is moving to the South of Fifth area or the Alton Road/West Avenue corridor.
“Parking isn’t a deterrent, so what is it? It’s that you can’t walk down the Road without being harassed.”
Several Lincoln Road business operators approached for comment either did not respond or did not want to be quoted.
“Lincoln Road isn’t main street Miami Beach anymore,” said one operator, speaking on condition of anonymity because the business owner had not given him permission to. “Half the time I watch and don’t recognize anyone I know walking by, and it’s never been like that before.”
Not everyone feels there are problems that need be further addressed, however.
“I would not describe Lincoln Road as ‘main street,’ as it does not provide for many mom-and-pops or necessities, but it is, and will continue to be, a major attraction for cuisine, shopping, and entertainment,” Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Grieco told SunPost. “I marvel at the crowds when I go with my family and appreciate it for what it is. The City is doing what it can to maintain safety, cleanliness, and a positive experience, but there is obviously plenty more to do. The Lincoln Road Business Owners Association has been a great partner as we try to move forward holistically. We have the Master Plan in the works, recently did a full sweep with Code Enforcement regarding the outdoor cafes and now have two officers dedicated to the promenade.”
In fact, Grieco said City Hall receives more complaints about other issues related to Lincoln Road.
The major complaints we hear in City Hall revolve around bicycles, skateboards, Segways, etc., and aggressive solicitation of wares and food,” Grieco said. “We currently have the bicycle issue in committee, and the skateboard/Segway issue is more about enforcement. Ditto on the enforcement with the menu pushers.”
Furthermore, Grieco said the increased rental rates on Lincoln Road reflects what happens in a free market economy.
“I believe in market forces and if the landlords can command and maintain outrageous rents, then so be it,” Grieco said. “It is not the City government’s job to dictate commercial rent control. I agree that Lincoln Road has lost a certain charm that comes with sole proprietorships. That being said, there are few empty storefronts. Businesses that are priced out but are being almost immediately replaced.”
Some residents are comfortable expressing wariness about the current state of Lincoln Road.
“Honestly with some of my favorite long-term restaurants and businesses having moved or closed, I don’t have much reason to go there,” said Ricky Diaz. “I have friends who feel the same way. I think South Beach is becoming more of a neighborhood-type community where people really can stay close to home and have shopping and dining options with their friends and neighbors. I don’t know if something is wrong with Lincoln Road or some things are better about other neighborhoods now than in the past.”
Grieco said he enjoys taking his family to Lincoln Road and sees plenty of other people who do as well.
“I go to Lincoln Road regularly with my family and run into plenty of residents who enjoy it as we do. From Haven and Balans all the way to Sushi Samba, back to Books & Books and around to Meat Market, it is great. So, if you hate good food, quality shopping, smiling children and throngs of people spending money that contributes to all the services this City provides, I encourage you to go elsewhere.”