By Linda Robertson
JULY 05, 2017 06:30 AM, UPDATED JULY 05, 2017 10:05 PM
Imagine panoramic vistas of Biscayne Bay and the Miami skyline from your balcony, sipping coffee or cocktails from a breezy bird’s-eye-view perch that places you in the energizing epicenter of the city you adore.
Then imagine having to abandon that balcony every weekend for the interior of your condo-turned-glass-cage where you must cower like a bunker occupant but still cannot escape the aural assault of an incessant, pulsating, thumping noise.
Turn it off? No. Because while you want to sleep, the patrons of the nightclubs 50 floors below want to dance into the wee and even breakfast hours to the driving bass beat of electronic music that climbs upward, seeps through closed windows and drills into your aching brain.
“Boom, boom, boom. Nonstop from Friday night to Monday morning,” said Michael Graubert, who has lived for three years in the Marquis building at 1100 Biscayne Boulevard, a few blocks from the clubs on Northeast 11th Street. “It gets louder as it travels up the buildings. This goes far beyond noise you would expect in the urban core. This is noise that disrupts your life and affects your health.”
Gail Feldman moved from Brickell Avenue to 900 Biscayne in January. She and her husband were excited by the idea of being downtown, walking their dog and chatting with neighbors in Museum Park, strolling to performances, art exhibits, basketball games and restaurants, and relaxing after a long work week in their home on the 61st floor.
“Never did I think that living in a beautiful penthouse would be like living in hell,” said Feldman, who recalled being awakened one night at 3 a.m. and traipsing bleary-eyed to the drugstore to buy earplugs that didn’t work. “I like music, but this is not music. There isn’t one square inch in our place where you cannot hear and feel the banging, blood-curdling noise. It doesn’t matter how many pillows you put over your head. It’s turning residents into lunatics.”
Tower dwellers along Biscayne Boulevard are fed up with intrusive music that never seems to stop playing. On the north end, it emanates from DJs nicknamed Thunderpony and Ms. Mada spinning techno and house from the rooftop terraces of Club Space, Heart Nightclub and E11even, whose motto is “Open 24/7. No Sleep.” On the south end, it blares from frequent Bayfront Park festivals such as Ultra and Rolling Loud and from nightly live bands at Bayside Marketplace.
When downtown Miami was a barren place that emptied out at 6 p.m., nobody cared about the music. The clubs, in fact, were lured to the Park West Entertainment District in 2000 by the offer of 24-hour liquor licenses and the city’s hope that they would enliven a blighted, crime-ridden pocket by the Interstate 395 overpass.
But as the population has grown to 88,000 in the past decade, so has the conflict between those who enjoy or profit from loud music and residents who are demanding enforcement of the city’s noise ordinance and a reduction of the number of events in the park. Soon, the Zaha Hadid-designed building with units starting at $5 million will open, as will the Paramount tower in the Miami World Center complex.
“You’re talking almost a billion dollars’ worth of real estate competing with clubland,” Graubert said. “We’ve got to find a way to co-exist.”
Paula Soares has lived on the 47th floor of 50 Biscayne for four years. She used to live in central Sâo Paulo, which, except for occasional screaming during televised soccer games, was “serene” compared with Miami, she said.
“I’m not here on vacation or able to party every day,” Soares said. “This is a residential community with working people and families. I think the city gives preference to the events that bring in money rather than respect to the citizens who pay taxes.”
Soares tries to leave when Ultra comes to town. This year, the Rolling Loud hip-hop festival was added to the already jammed calendar of weekend events. Every night, she can hear music wafting over from Bayside; on Thursday, it was a grating cover of Santana songs.
Miami’s noise ordinance states that any noise audible more than 100 feet from the source is a violation. For years, it was rarely enforced at night or on weekends because no code compliance officers worked late hours. Police could respond but could not issue citations. But in May, finally answering the complaints of residents, Commissioner Ken Russell, Assistant City Manager Alberto Parjus and new Code Compliance Director Orlando Diez made enforcement a priority by shifting staff to a midnight shift that is deployed throughout the city.
During Memorial Day weekend, Parjus was out on 11th Street when $500 citations were issued to all three clubs on Friday and Saturday night. If violations accrue beyond two, the city can pull operating licenses.
The clubs plan to appeal and may mount a legal challenge to the law at a July 20 hearing. Residents plan to attend en masse.
“We’re prepared for the backlash of ‘Boo-hoo for these rich people who can’t sleep, and didn’t they realize they were moving next to the club district?’ ” said Mark Kirby, who has lived at 900 Biscayne since 2010. “But since the clubs opened, the area has evolved into a neighborhood. People have a basic right to live in peace and quiet.”
Kirby, an interior designer who moved to Miami Beach during its renaissance to partake in the party scene, doesn’t want the clubs to shut down.
“I’ve been there, done that, and have no objection to what’s going on inside,” he said. “Just put a lid on it. Literally. This isn’t only about the three clubs. It’s about a precedent and a standard for the next 20 years of growth in Miami.”
Graubert and a sound engineer measured the decibel level within the clubs at 110, equivalent to the sound of a jackhammer or steel mill. Research shows constant loud noise not only causes hearing damage but a rise in blood pressure, anxiety and aggression. The CIA blasted Metallica, Marilyn Manson and Christina Aguilera at prisoners during interrogation sessions.
“They’ve got massive subwoofers projecting into the air,” he said. “It’s low-frequency noise pollution.”
Play VideoDuration 0:56How noisy are the noises in South Florida?
Using a decibel meter, the Miami Herald measured the volume levels on some common annoying noises in South Florida.
Residents are asking the clubs to enclose or soundproof their rooftops or move dancing to the ground floor. Graubert cites the example of Club LIV at the Fontainebleau Hotel, a deafening spot if you step inside its doors — but it’s insulated so it doesn’t bother guests.
“Walk around Las Vegas and you never hear noise,” Parjus said. “There are ways to mitigate the sound from leaving the premises.”
Residents praise E11even’s recent decision to silence rooftop shows and its plan to enclose the terrace. The club is also conducting a sound study in preparation for the hearing and will ask that its citations be dismissed.
“That building is a rock with noise-attenuation to the max,” said Louis J. Terminello, a lawyer who represents E11even’s owners. “I don’t think we’re guilty of any noise violations. There’s a giant municipal water chiller, a highway and Metromover right there, so what residents hear is a culmination of noise. If we’re causing a legitimate disturbance, we want to resolve it. But we also want our business to flourish.”
Terminello said that turning down the volume isn’t an option for DJs.
“They are artists who truly believe in the quality of their artistic presentation,” he said. “The residents will tell you everyone is stoned or drunk. They don’t see any art to it. They just want to sleep.”
Heart Nightclub has hired an acoustical engineer to examine ways to reduce noise after an attempt to take measurements from condo units was declined by residents who would not allow access, said Michael Slyder, CFO of Heart and president of the Miami Entertainment District Association.
Heart will “vigorously” challenge the citations but wants to cooperate with neighbors “while protecting the rights of those invested” in the district, Slyder said.
After the Memorial Day crackdown, residents say the clubs turned the music up again. Often, it crests around 5:30 a.m. when a wave of partiers arrives from the Miami Beach clubs that close at 5 a.m. Club Space invites guests to “come dance with us as our sound system roars at the moon and wakes up the sun.”
“Heart and Space are louder than ever. Why be so obstinate?” said Claudia Roussell, who has lived on the 40th floor of 10 Museum Park since 2010. She used to live in New York City and South Beach and doesn’t mind regular street noise. But she has resorted to playing white-noise recordings of “summer rain” and a dishwasher to drown out club noise. Some of her neighbors flee on weekends. “You can’t even say it’s fun music. It’s that penetrating boom, boom, boom.”
In addition to fighting for strict enforcement of the noise ordinance, the Downtown Neighborhood Alliance is circulating a petition asking the city to relocate Ultra and Rolling Loud to more “appropriate” open spaces to the west, said alliance president Amal Kabbani.
Soares has lost hope for peace. She’s planning to move.
“I am very sad because I love this place,” she said with a sigh. “But I am very tired.”