Rebeca Piccardo/News Director
Miami-Dade County voters will determine the University’s future next week.
There’s a lot on the line for the University with this election. Voting yes on the ballot means it gets to move in to 64 of the 86 adjacent acres land to continue expanding programs, classroom space, housing and parking.
Voting no, however, means President Mark B. Rosenberg will have to limit access and slow enrollment.
Currently, FIU has the second highest enrollment in the state, and the smallest main campus. With over 54,000 students, the University has anticipated their spacing issues for years.
“Our sense is that the growth that we are contemplating in the 64 acres of land will definitely improve the University,” said Rosenberg.
The University has been meeting on and off with the Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition, Inc. and the County for about five years.
Its efforts to acquire the 86 acres of County land that has been leased to the fair finally gained momentum this summer when the Florida Legislature gave the University $10 million towards the relocation initiative. The Fair has a 99-year lease with the county.
In September, the Board of County Commissioners passed along the referendum to the Nov. 4 ballot.
The ballot is a yes or no vote to allow the University to build on the land as an exception to the County charter, which designated the land for park and recreation purposes only.
The Fair has made it clear it does not want to relocate, and complained to the county board that the language on the ballot does not include or explain what would happen to the Fair if the University is exempt.
The Board of County Commissioners also approved a Memorandum of Understanding between the University and the County.
In the MOU, the University listed their plans for expansion: to expand their Engineering Center, expand the Academic Health Center, labs and classroom space, as well as more parking and housing.
The MOU outlines specific steps the University must take, along with the county, to relocate the Fair without invoking the cancellation option of the Fair’s county lease.
For one, the University has to pay for the entire cost of relocation, and according to the memorandum, they intend to seek the rest of the money from the Florida Legislature or private donors.
The University has anticipated to spend between $45 to $50 million to help the fair relocate. Part of the agreement includes giving $20 million to the the County Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department to make improvements in Tamiami Park. The park would not be taken over in the University expansion plan.
Additionally, the University must lease the County a title to the Bird Basin Property. The County’s lease to the University depends on whether they get the Bird Basin Property or not.
Both sides have lobbied aggressively in the past months and each side has its fair share of supporters.
Miami Herald staff made recommended their readers to vote yes on the ballot for University expansion as part of an editorial.
In response, Youth Fair CEO Robert Hohenstein wrote a letter to the editor to make clear that even if the referendum passes, the fair will still be in Tamiami Park for several years.
He said that the University must fulfill certain steps before the fair will even move.
The University must present an alternative site that is acceptable to the Youth Fair, then reimburse the fair for the $ $90 million-plus in infrastructure it has invested and prepare the new site plus moving costs.
Once the University has taken these steps, Hohenstein said, the County must give the Fair three years’ notice.
There is a clear disagreement in the estimated costs of this whole operation: Rosenberg said it wouldn’t go over $50 million but Hohenstein said the estimated cost is about $230 million.
The agreement with the County sets March 2015 as the deadline for the County and the University to present an alternative site for the fair.
Once they can pinpoint the site, the University will have a better estimate of the costs they are responsible for.
“The DNA of this University is not to settle. The DNA of this University is to push when people say no,” Rosenberg said. “We want to know, ‘why not?’”