Ultra Music Festival Confronts Smear Campaign, Holds Hearing for Virginia Key Move

Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images
Atmosphere as David Guetta performs during the Ultra Music Festival at Bayfront Park Amphitheater on March 29, 2015 in Miami. 

When Ultra Music Festival's contract with the City of Miami failed to renew, it lost its nearly 20-year home in the city's downtown. The location was an iconic part of the festival's flagship event, while the brand has expanded into 21 counties across five continents. Tickets for the 2019 Miami festival are already on sale, and Ultra has its eye on Virginia Key, just a 15-minute drive south of its former Bayfront Park location.

Ultra had a public hearing scheduled with the Miami City Commission for Thursday morning (Nov. 15), but now it must contend with a harsh smear campaign launched by Virginia Key's Mayor-elect Mike Davey. "This is the same Ultra Music Festival the City of Miami commission unanimously voted to evict from Bayfront Park," Davey says in a video posted to YouTube (below). "Why? Because of environmental destruction, noise and an increase in drug- and alcohol-related violence."

But Miami New Times reporter Jose Duran noted that "except for the noise, not one of those concerns was brought up during the September 27 City of Miami Commission meeting," adding that "the festival lost its longtime home because negotiations -- and political infighting between commissioners Joe Carollo and Ken Russell -- failed to produce an agreement that satisfied everyone."

The video likewise features images of a dirty beach and discarded drug needles, neither of which are actually sourced from or representative of UMF's downtown festival.

Ultra responded with a long statement, condemning Davey's "deeply regrettable" comments.

“It unfairly disparages our brand and potentially criminalizes our patrons,” Ultra’s spokesperson Ray Martinez is quoted. According to the statement, event organizers already agreed to high standards of environmental awareness and responsibility for handling Virginia Key Beach Park's historical elements with great care. The festival adds that it committed to the reduction and eventual elimination of single-use plastics, restricted beach access for patrons, the elimination of balloons, Styrofoam and plastic straws, among others, before the even meeting with the city.

Davey isn't the only obstacle Ultra faces. Virginia Key has historically been home to Rapture Music Festival during the Miami Music Week celebrations. The event typically occurs earlier in the week and features a more underground house and techno lineup, though in 2019, Rapture planned to move its event to Friday and Saturday, March 29 and 30, therefore overlapping with Ultra's Friday to Sunday dates, March 29 to 31. Tickets for Rapture 2019 are also currently on sale.

The City of Miami Commission will vote on whether to move forward with Ultra's Virginia Key proposal after the public hearing. Stay tuned for more as this story develops, and read Ultra's full statement in response to Davey below.

Ultra's official statement in full

It is deeply regrettable that Mayor-Elect, Mike Davey and the Village of Key Biscayne have elected to publish statements that are knowingly false and misleading rather than to first seek to collaborate with either Ultra representatives or its City of Miami partners (if for no other purpose but to gather accurate facts and to gain an understanding of Ultra’s commitment and obligations respecting, traffic mitigation and environmental and historical preservation planning). By opting to instead circulate what appears to be primarily stock photos (unrelated to Ultra) featuring used needles, polluted shorelines, traffic gridlock, by falsely and intentionally reporting that potentially hundreds of thousands of attendees will be converging on the Rickenbacker Causeway and by falsely stating that City of Miami had purportedly evicted Ultra for environmental destruction, increased alcohol and drug-related violence, safety risks and by reporting other untruths is blatantly disreputable. The offending publication(s) by Mayor-Elect, Mike Davey and the Village of Key Biscayne is patently false and inaccurate, and was made with reckless disregard of the truth. “It unfairly disparages our brand and potentially criminalizes our patrons” says Ray Martinez, Ultra’s spokesperson. The publications made by the Mayor-Elect are believed to be defamatory, as are the horrendous images that were published in an effort to purportedly inflame and scare residents and stakeholders. Ultra condemns this conduct and cautions that such leadership is irresponsible and wrongful on multiple factual and legal grounds including that the disturbing images were not associated with the Ultra Music Festival brand. Event organizers of Ultra Music Festival are experienced and responsible promoters, which intends to fulfill its commitment to produce a safe and enjoyable event.

Because of the cultural and historic significance of Historic Virginia Key Beach Park and given the unique environmental considerations associated with the park, event organizers, from the inception, always intended to take extraordinarily great care in its production and remediation approaches. Event organizers always agreed that staging an event at Virginia Key meant becoming the entrusted stewards of the environmental and historic elements of Historic Virginia Key Beach Park and Ultra takes that potential responsibility very seriously. Event organizers have expended substantial resources in sourcing and consulting with leading experts, engineers, scientists and other professionals in areas of traffic mitigation, logistics, safety and security, land remediation, wildlife and marine conservation and others from environmental communities.

During this process, Ultra voluntarily undertook environmental commitments long before the City of Miami and Historic Virginia Key Beach Park Trust partners formally proposed similar initiatives. Ultra has also worked in good faith to earn the support and trust of the City Manager’s office and of local environmental stakeholders with whom event organizers share a common vision—, namely,to protect the City of Miami’s coastline, oceans, beaches, mangroves, endangered and threatened species and to ultimately reduce the overall environmental footprint. Some specific initiatives include the reduction of single-use plastics (with the goal of eventual elimination), restricted beach access to event patrons, eliminating styrofoam products and plastics straws, eliminating the use of balloons, utilizing meaningful recycling options, solid waste sorting, avoiding turtle nesting season, adopting awareness programs, among others. Ultra is pleased to have earned the trust and support of its City partners, including the support of Virginia Key Beach Park Trust stakeholders who stated that while “[t]he Ultra Music Festival carries some controversies ... [it] represents a potential opportunity to advance the Trust’s master plan and mission ... .” —Guy Forchion, Executive Director, Historic Virginia Key Beach Park Trust. Ultra looks forward to keeping the trust of the City of Miami and Virginia Key Beach Park Trust partners and invites an open-minded and good-faith dialogue with Mayor-Elect, Mike Davey and / or with other representatives of the Village of Key Biscayne administration to address their concerns.