Miami-Dade County

Youth Fair would make room for FIU under plan for shared home

The sun sets on the opening day of the Miami-Dade County Youth Fair in this file photo from March 12, 2015.
The sun sets on the opening day of the Miami-Dade County Youth Fair in this file photo from March 12, 2015. Miami Herald Staff

Florida International University and the Youth Fair show no signs of ending their impasse over FIU’s plan to expand onto the 86-acre fairgrounds at Tamiami Park provided it can secure a viable new home for the non-profit. To resolve the stand-off, county leaders are floating a potential workaround: having both organizations share the fairgrounds.

Two sets of rough drawings show FIU expanding onto a portion of the Youth Fair’s current footprint, and the fair itself remaining in a reconfigured layout that would include construction of thousands of new parking spaces in garages for attendees. The arrangements would mean using some additional parkland for either garages or fairgrounds, as well as giving FIU less than the 64 acres it is seeking for new research facilities, dormitories and other academic functions to house a growing student population.

The mayor wanted to see if there was a way to do this without having to move the fair. It’s still being pursued.

Michael Spring, aide to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez

Developed by fair consultants and county park officials, the preliminary plans haven’t won the backing of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who a senior aide said had requested options for a shared site. But mapping out the options marks the first time County Hall has publicly considered keeping the Youth Fair in place rather than finding it the new home miles away that FIU has pursued from Miami Gardens to Homestead.

“None of this is something that would work in anybody’s view,” said Michael Spring, the Gimenez deputy overseeing parks and cultural activities who also is charged with resolving the FIU expansion issue. “But it demonstrated that there are pieces on the game board that possibly could be rearranged to work. The mayor wanted to see if there was a way to do this without having to move the fair. It’s still being pursued.”

After the Miami Herald obtained the plans through a records request with Spring’s office, FIU issued a statement saying it had not yet had a chance to “thoroughly review the documents.” South Florida’s only state university won voter approval last fall to take over the Youth Fair’s site at Tamiami Park under the provision that it also find comparable new fairgrounds at no cost to Miami-Dade. The lease of the Youth Fair, Miami-Dade’s version of a county fair, requires the county to cover all costs for a new site if it ever evicts the organization.

With about 75 years left on its lease, the Youth Fair, which draws about 600,000 people to its three-week March event, has so far rejected FIU’s suggestions for new locations , including area outside Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens and as part of an agricultural research center FIU would back near Homestead. Fair executives say the stadium area is not workable for its year-round event business, and that the Homestead site too remote. In its statement Thursday, FIU touted the site near Homestead as “the best option for our entire community.”

To accommodate an FIU expansion onto the current fairgrounds, Fair consultants proposed letting the school build on top of a vast, 50-acre parking garage with 5,000 spaces available for fair attendees and staff. FIU would also fund construction of two garages to hold about 3,500 cars. Instead of its requested 64 acres, FIU would have 50 acres for expansion. The school’s new footprint would be large enough that the Fair proposed expanding each year into Tamiami parkland currently kept clear for fair parking.

Spring said county staff considered that plan too costly, and instead worked up an alternative that would keep the two park garages but eliminate the need for more fair parking by giving FIU only 20 acres for expansion. Spring said Gimenez rejected that scenario.

A Fair spokesman issued a statement that said the organization “continues to work closely and cooperatively with our landlord....”