Op-Ed

Honor Youth Fair’s lease with county

HOHENSTEIN
HOHENSTEIN

Our community recently held its 64th annual Miami-Dade County Youth Fair & Exposition on the fairgrounds in Tamiami Park. A total of 653,281 guests, or one in every four Miami-Dade residents, enjoyed rides, shows, concerts, agricultural exhibits and competitions, games, more than 40,000 student exhibits, delectable food and much more.

The Miami-Dade County Youth Fair & Exposition is our community’s largest nonprofit charity event and is the largest fair in Florida and the 30th largest in North America. It is larger than 36 of the country’s state fairs.

We are chartered by the state to support education, showcase student achievement and promote and support South Florida’s $2.7-billion agriculture industry. This year, The Fair will donate well over $300,000 in scholarships, prizes and awards to local students.

As we celebrate the 2015 Fair’s successes, transition into our year-round exhibition business and begin preparation for the 2016 Youth Fair, it is time for straight talk regarding Florida International University’s desire to expand onto the fairgrounds.

Our lease with the county runs through 2085. There is a clear three-step termination clause in the lease should the county wish to exercise that option:

▪ Provide a construction-ready site that is equal to or better than in all respects our current fairgrounds and infrastructure in Tamiami Park.

▪ Reimburse our organization in current-year dollars for the investments we have made in county facilities, along with all moving expenses.

▪ Provide three years’ notice.

Meet those three steps, and The Fair and our Exposition business will move. No fuss. No fight. The Fair has relocated on two other occasions and is prepared to do so again under the terms and conditions of our lease.

So, what is standing in FIU’s way? The lease — and money. Hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ dollars.

A study jointly commissioned and funded by the county, FIU and The Youth Fair determined that relocating The Fair and our Exposition business would cost between $210 million and $230 million, plus the cost of land for the approximately 250-300 acres The Fair needs. FIU quickly vetoed the study’s last remaining site because it involved buying private land that FIU deemed too expensive. Interestingly, FIU promised the county $20 million for undefined improvements in Tamiami Park if it is allowed to take over the fairgrounds.

FIU devalues the investments we have made at the fairgrounds, Tamiami Park, Indian Hammocks Park and even those we paid for on FIU’s main campus, appraised at over $80 million. It claims we want to be paid $250 million, and that there are problems with our parking and infrastructure — all disproved by the facts.

FIU calls the result of its November referendum, in which it transferred more than $600,000 of tax-exempt foundation funds to its political action committee, a “mandate.” However, the ballot item simply approved a conditional exemption from Article 7 of the County Charter that prohibits commercial development on park land, provided The Fair and its businesses are relocated without funds being provided by the county. There is no “mandate” for any party to do anything at any time.

The time and the taxpayer monies being spent on this effort could much better be spent on working within the three-step process I outlined earlier. At $250 million to acquire access to 64 fairground acres, the taxpayers of Florida will be paying $3.9 million per acre. FIU and the taxpayers would do much better finding 64 acres elsewhere. Surely there are better options for the Miami-Dade community.

Robert Hohenstein is president and CEO of The Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition, Inc.

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