Miami-Dade’s mayor offered his most discouraging outlook yet on Florida International University’s bid to expand onto a county park currently occupied by the Youth Fair.
The fair has decades left on its lease at Tamiami Park, and Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Wednesday he’s not willing to force an eviction unless FIU agrees to cover all expenses from a likely court fight. The state-funded school says it can’t indemnify Miami-Dade or anyone else from future legal liability. And while FIU has agreed to pay up to $50 million to move the county fair to a new home, so far the fair has said the university’s alternative locations would bankrupt the popular March event.
Gimenez publicly backs FIU’s expansion plans, but in a meeting with the Miami Herald’s editorial board, he offered zero encouragement that a deal could be closed. Referring to the fair’s 1995 county lease as “an incredibly sweet deal,” he said Miami-Dade has little leverage to force a move that the Fair doesn’t want.
“The Youth Fair has an ace of spades, a king of spades, a queen of spades, a jack of spades, and ten of spades,” Gimenez said. “I have a two, a three, a four, a five and a seven.”
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In reaching for a poker analogy, Gimenez gave the fair the best hand possible, a royal flush, while he had the makings of a straight if only his seven had been a six. In other words, nothing.
An officially declared stalemate could let Gimenez clear the decks of the FIU fight as he revs up for a 2016 reelection campaign against challenger Raquel Regalado, a two-term member of the Miami-Dade school board. Or it could increase pressure on FIU to reconsider a recent administration proposal to reconfigure Tamiani Park to accommodate both FIU’s campus expansion and the fairgrounds.
Fair executives were warm to that idea, but FIU rejected it as unworkable. Instead, FIU is pushing idea moving the fair south to county land outside Homestead, where the state school would help create an agricultural center around the farm-friendly fair. Asked for comment Wednesday, an FIU spokeswoman noted Homestead and other South Dade cities have already endorsed the idea.
Fair executives say the Homestead site is too remote to allow the fair to sustain an attendance that tops 600,000 each year. In a recent round of letters to elected officials and business leaders, the fair called the Homestead option a sure “death knell” for the event and described itself as exploring other options.
“We are disappointed that while the county and the Fair are moving forward within the terms of our lease, FIU is solely focused on the death spiral that would come with a relocation to South Dade,” Fair CEO Robert Hohenstein said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. FIU leaders, he added, “refuse to accept the financial realities that any move would entail.”