Members of the University community gathered in the Graham Center’s piano room lounge early on July 17, united under a common goal: to show support of the continuous effort to expand through the acquisition of the fairgrounds.
A group that included SGC-MMC President Alexis Calatayud traveled together in a shuttle to the Stephen P. Clark Government Center, where the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners gathered to discuss the issue.
“We’re just excited to see the University expand and offer more opportunities to the community,” said Calatayud. “We’re looking forward to students playing a role in voicing their opinions on what really affects them and what really affects their fellow Miami-Dade County residents.”
Working towards this expansion was the topic of interest at the meeting of the Board of County Commissioners, which was brought forth for discussion by Commissioner Juan C. Zapata of District 11, within which the fairgrounds are located.
“I’m fortunate to have FIU in my district but at no point have I ever felt this is something particular to District 11. FIU is truly a public university that serves this entire community,” said Zapata.
Despite the unanimous support for the expansion of the University, it was expressed that the needs of both the Youth Fair and the University must be taken into consideration.
“We obviously want to be fair to the Youth Fair but we’re gonna have to really make some tough decisions on where they should go or at least be able to identify some locations for them to go,” said Zapata.
A total of 24 different sites have been analyzed thus far in hopes of finding one suitable for the relocation of the Youth Fair. Recently, Tropical Park has been added to the discussion and is the latest site under consideration.
“It hasn’t been studied at all. That one, to me and to almost everyone I’ve talked to, seems very promising,” said Calatayud about Tropical Park.
Of the 24 sites recommended, a total of three sites have been studied by the fair and the University, with the fair having shown favoritism towards a site west of Miami Lakes.
Bob Hohenstein, the president and CEO of the Youth Fair said he was still open to the idea of relocation.
“We will gladly collaborate to the assessment of any potential site and we reaffirm our pledge to continue to work cooperatively with the county and FIU in this effort,” he said.
The result of the meeting set a deadline for all parties involved to present a final recommendation for the fair’s new site by Sept. 3, when the Board will congregate once again for a meeting.
Additionally, the relocation of the fair will be presented in a countywide voter referendum during the General Election on November 4.
Throughout this entire process, it has been emphasized that the expansion of the University and the relocation of the fair shall come at no cost to the county.
“I hope we can accommodate everything, but our job is to protect the taxpayers of Miami-Dade County, and if we fail to follow the legal steps that we have to follow, then the responsibility will be on us,” said Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa of District 6.
As previously reported, the University has been negotiating with the Miami-Dade County Fair & Expo for several years now. Most recently, the State legislature granted $10 million in funding to the University towards the acquisition of the 86 acres that the Youth Fair has on lease until 2040.
Overall, what came from this meeting was support on all levels, which solidified the importance of moving forward, as did the gathering of the small portion of the University’s students and staff that congregated in support of progress.
“Students believe in this project, so they have to take ownership of supporting it,” said Calatayud.
“Students should be the spearhead force for this project because it directly affects us and our community. Faculty and administration also are extraordinarily invested in the community and the future of FIU for students, [but] that’s exactly it— it’s for students,” she said.
A final agreement might not have been reached just yet, but all parties present have expressed interest in working towards a solution.
“We want to thank the Miami-Dade County Commission and Mayor Carlos Gimenez for their support of our efforts to work with county and fair officials to identify an appropriate site to relocate the fair at no cost to the county so that FIU can make use of the 86 acres adjacent to our campus,” said President Mark Rosenberg to Student Media. “This is about more and better jobs and educational opportunities for our community. We look forward to making significant progress to find a win-win-win solution.”