Merrett Stierheim’s May 1 piece, Facts behind Youth Fair-FIU dispute, makes some excellent points, which isn’t surprising given his intimate knowledge of the two institutions and broad perspective rooted in decades of leadership roles in our community.
As an FIU alumnus and passionate member of this community, I agree with Stierheim on many points, but feel that important additional elements not discussed in his piece tip the conversation in FIU’s favor.
First, it is important to understand that FIU, the Fair and the county have been talking about the fair’s relocation for five years. Some 25 sites have been identified over the course of that time. While site after site continues to be identified and dismissed year after year, FIU is on a growth trajectory. Soon it will outgrow the current footprint of the Modesto A. Maidique Campus. FIU is the second largest university in the State University System and it has the smallest main campus. While all the other universities were chartered with more than 1,000 acres, state leaders at the time assigned FIU only one third of that.
What this university has been able to accomplish with the resources it has been given is absolute proof of its can-do spirit. But now FIU needs more and Miami-Dade voters agreed last November when 65 percent of the voters supported a ballot question about allowing FIU the same exception the Fair has had for more than 40 years.
Part of what is creating tension is that the Fair has lease agreement with the county that runs through 2085. During a recent County Commission meeting, commissioners Juan Carlos Zapata and Esteban Bovo questioned the legality of such a contract and asked for a legal review. We thank them for their leadership.
For a young community like ours, nine decades is a long time to tie up public land with no financial benefit to the county. We need to be clear: Univision, Channel 23 reported recently that in the past year, the Fair paid the county a total of $1,200 plus $303,000 in scholarships and prizes to students.
By contrast, FIU is one of the largest employers in the county, it provides $454 million in scholarships and financial aid a year to the sons and daughters of this community. FIU’s proposed expansion will mean job creation; increased and enhanced educational opportunities; support for scientific research and entrepreneurship; and $900 million in new construction.
Yes, moving the Fair will cost some money. Estimates vary widely depending on who you ask. One thing is clear: FIU will secure the funding and it will not come from Miami-Dade County coffers.
While clearly the provisions of the contract must be reviewed and addressed, all parties — the Fair included — must come to the table with the best interests of our community in mind. Surely a solution can be found that takes into account the needs of the Fair, while allowing FIU to continue to meet the needs of our community.
Thomas M. Cornish, chairman, FIU Foundation, Miami