Miami-Dade County

Battle between FIU and Miami-Dade Youth Fair over location goes public with dueling letters

The leaders in the battle over whether to maintain or make changes at the Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition stepped up their campaigns Friday by publicly releasing letters urging public support of their respective positions.

In his letter, Florida International University president Mark Rosenberg, asked supporters to “consider contacting your county commissioner with your appreciation for giving us a chance to show what FIU can do with this land.”

FIU says it has outgrown its main Tamiami campus after 40-some years and wants to expand into neighboring county-owned land — some 86-acres that the 62-year-old fair has used since 1972.

FIU’s expansion will “enhance our ability to create new jobs for the South Florida economy and produce greater student talent in engineering, the sciences, and entrepreneurship — areas that are state priorities and keys to economic development,” Rosenberg’s letter stated. “We also expect to add additional undergraduate and graduate students to meet the demand created by the well documented student achievement success of Miami-Dade County Public Schools.”

In his letter, Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition president and CEO Robert Hohenstein asked the public to draft letters to several bodies, including Miami-Dade County commissioners, Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ commissioner Adam Putnam.

Make it clear, he wrote, that “The Youth Fair has legal rights and that FIU’s plans could turn public park land into private for-profit development.”

Hohenstein’s letter talked about the benefits of the fair in the community, saying “ the board of directors voted unanimously to extend the run time of The Youth Fair for the first time in more than three decades by adding a fourth weekend to the 2015 Youth Fair calendar.”

Miami-Dade commissioners earlier this month backed the university’s plans for expansion onto the Tamiami Park grounds. To do so, however, would mean moving the fair to an unspecified location — a costly move that fair supporters say would do irreparable harm.

Commissioners directed Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s administration to recommend a site by Sept. 3 and to draft language for a ballot question asking voters to approve turning over the public fairgrounds at Coral Way and Southwest 107th Avenue to the university.

On Friday, Hohenstein said he feels the fair will prevail. The fair uses the Tamiami site some three weeks out of a year.

“This is an iconic institution in this community,” he said. “One in five Miami-Dade residents visit the fair. It’s a multigenerational event that brings together every ethnic group, every age group, every religious group.” The expo also hosts about 70 events on the grounds during the year when the fair isn’t running.

A Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald poll conducted in June favored the expo’s position as 50 percent of respondents opposed FIU’s expansion by seven percentage points.

The fair has a long-term lease agreement with the county that runs through 2040 and three 15-year options that would take the lease through 2085, Hohenstein said.

“Our lease very clearly lays out a process and procedures that must occur for the county to terminate our lease before its conclusion,” Hohenstein said.

Among the lease’s provisions: If Miami-Dade wants to end the lease early, it would have to give three-years’ advance notice, secure another site and pay for the move — in the range of $210 million to $230 million for construction, road and service improvements, according to a county consultant’s July 2013 report.

The county has said it cannot come up with that kind of money.

The university has a $900 million expansion plan that would include new housing, parking, research and academic facilities.

Hohenstein said he wrote his letter because fair stakeholders, which include employees and visitors, “needed to hear from me, not from some surrogate or some third party or some chatter at a cocktail party or barbecue.”

Rosenberg was unavailable for comment, but FIU spokeswoman Maydel Santana-Bravo forwarded his letter as a response.

“FIU is proposing a no-cost-to-the-county relocation of the fair that still allows all of the Tamiami Park activities, like youth baseball and basketball to remain,” Rosenberg wrote .

On this point, the two men differ.

“FIU is a state institution and every citizen in our county pays taxes to the state of Florida in some form or fashion,” Hohenstein said. “Taxpayers will pay for this relocation and it will come from a state tax from Tallahassee, not a tax from the [Stephen P.] Clark Center in Downtown Miami.”

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