City officials say they will change their votes on Nikki Beach. Here’s what it means
Faced with public blowback after they voted to give a powerful beach concession company the inside track in negotiations over the future of prime oceanfront real estate in South Beach, Miami Beach officials now appear poised to reverse course and put the matter out to bid.
Several city commissioners who said last month that Boucher Brothers should get the first crack at pitching their vision for the Nikki Beach property now say they would prefer a competitive process, heeding the calls of residents and the venue’s owners, who say they deserve a fair shot to keep operating the decades-old day club at 1 Ocean Drive after its lease with the city expires in May 2026.
A proposal by Commissioner David Richardson, included in an agenda published Wednesday for a meeting set for next week, asks for his fellow elected officials to reconsider their April 28 votes.
Richardson’s resolution calls for the city to put out a request for proposals “for the management or operation of a high end beach establishment and ancillary uses” on the property and adjacent beach area.
“It became clear to me that there were many people in our community who wanted an open and competitive RFP process, perhaps because for the past several years the current operator has enjoyed performing under a no-bid contract,” Richardson said in a statement, referring to a no-bid concession agreement awarded to Nikki Beach nearly two decades ago. “I hope my colleagues will agree with me and we can move forward.”
Along with Richardson, Mayor Dan Gelber and Commissioners Kristen Rosen Gonzalez and Laura Dominguez have also said they plan to change their votes on the issue.
The vote last month to direct City Manager Alina Hudak to negotiate with Boucher Brothers for future management of the site was 5-2, with Commissioners Alex Fernandez and Steven Meiner opposed. That means only two votes would need to flip at next Wednesday’s meeting to nullify the prior decision.
“I have read everyone’s comments, I am changing my vote, and we will have a fair and transparent process,” Rosen Gonzalez wrote in a May 1 post on the app Nextdoor. “I initially thought that this was what the neighborhood wanted, and I thought this was a way to keep a small building and save the property from developers. But I see now that we must put this out to bid, and we will.”
Dominguez told the Miami Herald on Monday that she was “a little confused” during the April meeting about what exactly the proposal by Commissioner Ricky Arriola meant. Officials clarified at the meeting that anyone, including Nikki Beach owners Jack and Lucia Penrod, would be allowed to submit ideas for the property or an unsolicited bid to the city at any time, but Arriola said the negotiations would give Boucher “an inside track.”
At the same time, Arriola touted Boucher as a “stalking horse” to generate broader interest in the city-owned site, and noted that six of seven commissioners would ultimately need to vote to accept a future Boucher proposal and waive competitive bidding.
Dominguez said she now feels that issuing a request for proposals is “a cleaner way to do it.”
Lucia Penrod has said she expected the city to issue a request for proposals once the Nikki Beach lease was near expiration, and was “shocked” to learn officials were discussing a possible no-bid deal with Boucher.
The discussions reflect Miami Beach officials’ efforts to tamp down on the city’s party scene, and a response to homeowners in the South of Fifth neighborhood who say they want something more their speed than a day club at the site.
“It’s prime city property. It ought to be used with some measure of resident perspective, and for decades it hasn’t,” Gelber said in an interview Wednesday. “I don’t care who starts the process. I just want that property to be better programmed.”
Politics at play?
In an interview this week, Arriola accused the Nikki Beach owners of hypocrisy for demanding a bid process, pointing out that commissioners voted to waive competitive bidding requirements to award Nikki Beach a concession agreement in 2004.
“They love no-bid contracts,” Arriola said. “They’re just trying to play politics and run a PR campaign.”
Reversing last month’s vote and putting the issue out to bid, Arriola added, would mean the Nikki Beach owners “can just shut up and quit being a baby and compete with this and end this phony public charade that something underhanded is happening.”
The discussions have led to critiques from some residents who say political connections appear to be affecting the process and see Nikki Beach as a treasured local spot.
Boucher Brothers has engaged with Major Food Group, the high-end restaurant outfit that includes Nikki Beach’s next-door neighbor Carbone, about potentially putting a restaurant at the site.
That idea faced fresh scrutiny this past weekend after several Miami Beach elected officials were seen attending the swanky Carbone Beach dinner party put on by Major Food Group and Boucher Brothers.
Officials’ acceptance of $3,000 tickets to the event this year and last year could potentially run afoul of state ethics laws, experts said, because entities tied to the Bouchers and Major Food Group are registered to lobby the city on issues unrelated to Nikki Beach.
The Penrods first signed a lease with the city in the mid-1980s, when they were operating a club called Penrod’s, that provided a 20-year term with two 10-year renewal options. Today, their lease requires annual payments to the city of 6.5% of gross receipts, an arrangement Arriola has criticized as a sweetheart deal.
The Nikki Beach brand started in 1998 as a quiet garden by the ocean, named Nikki Café to honor Jack Penrod’s daughter, Nicole, who died in a car accident when she was 18. That later became Nikki Beach, which revolutionized “day club” culture in the area.
Despite the recent controversy, Arriola said he’s glad the topic is generating buzz — and thinks it bodes well for the future of the oceanfront property.
“This has done what I intended it to do,” he said, “which is stir public debate and put this underutilized and dilapidated public asset into play.”