Melissa Burgess / Staff Writer
Recently, Robert Hohenstien, president and CEO of Miami Dade County Youth Fair, sent Student Government President Alexis Calatayud a long letter saying her online petition for FIU expansion was full of “misguided information.”
“He wrote me a letter telling me what I’m saying in my petition is inaccurate.” said Calatayud.
The SGA President created an online petition asking the Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the Miami Dade County Commission to support her online petition on the university’s expansion onto the land adjacent to the MMC Campus by voting “yes” on the November 2014 referendum.
“This petition is really important. FIU literally doesn’t have anymore space, and the community need for more people to be educated and have a high quality education grows as the community grows. We don’t have the physical space on our main campus to accommodate what the community needs,” said Calatayud.
The goal is to have 10,000 signatures for the online petition.
“It’s not about how many signatures we can get to tick off the Mayor. This isn’t just an issue after a certain period of time the community won’t care about,” said Calatayud. “It’s for him to see that this is something that his community and the people that elected him think is important. It’s not just the administration of FIU that wants the university to grow, it’s the very members of the community.”
Gimenez said last month that he’s not willing to force an eviction unless FIU agrees to cover all expenses from what likely turn to a court fight, according to the Miami Herald.
On Nov. 4 2014, the Miami Dade Board of County Commissioners approved FIU’s referendum to expand onto the 64 acres in Tamiami Park that is currently occupied by the Miami-Dade County Fair and Expo. The ballot passed with 67% of votes.
The university must pay all county costs and find the fair a suitable home.
“The voters want more and better educational opportunities at FIU and for the community,” said President Rosenberg in an interview with the Miami Herald. “I think the voters understand education and jobs go together.”
According to FIU’s Office of Governmental Relations, FIU wants to expand the university to 64 acres of the fairgrounds to take up the space with new dorms, research facilities, parking and other academic functions to accommodate a growing student body.
When asked about any decisions about what the fairgrounds will be used for, Calatayud said that once the referendum is approved, the county has to break the contract with the fair. 3 years after the county breaks the contract, is when FIU can begin constructing which would take another 2 years. Decisions on the new buildings depend on the funding available at that time.
FIU has also proposed a plan called “South Dade Economic Development Proposal,” built around the premise of relocating The Fair and its exposition business and education opportunities to South Dade.
On Dec. 16, 2015 the members of the Homestead City Council endorsed FIU’s economic development initiative that included a site for the Fair to relocate.
The project would be beneficial to South Dade’s agricultural industry and bring economic prosperity with new educational and job opportunities.
Yet one big obstacle remains: The Youth Fair has rejected the move to South Dade as “unacceptable” saying that the site is so remote it would cut attendance in half and bankrupt their business.
According to the Miami Herald, Youth Fair executives say the Homestead site is too far-flung for the fair to sustain an attendance that exceeds 600,000 each year.
In a recent round of letters to elected officials and business leaders, the fair called the Homestead option a sure “death knell” for the event and described itself as exploring other options, according to the Miami Herald.
“It’s not that FIU wants the fair to disappear. There’s a big difference between wanting the fair to accommodate to another location and wanting them to disappear. I think that the fair is not concerned with the community but that they are concerned with business. I think that is what separates what we’re trying to do at FIU and what the Fair wants to do. There’s a big distinction between business and education,” said Alian Collazo, a current speaker for the SGA Senate and an international relations major.
According to a letter The Fair wrote to the Miami Herald about FIU, The Youth Fair conducted a “massive market research study and two exhaustive economic studies,” showing that their organization would lose more than 50% of their business and 100% of their livestock exhibitors and more than 50% percent of exposition clients if the events were relocated to South Dade.
Collazo said that the Fair hasn’t presented any real concrete evidence showing that their revenue would decrease.
“We’ve presented clear plans of how this would positively affect the terms in Homestead, in terms of education and increase in jobs and revenue, and how it would positively affect the community at FIU such as long term growth and jobs,” he said.
At this point, FIU and The Fair have not come to a compromise.
“The fair won’t compromise with locations. But their perspective is that they are working with us. Our perspective is that there is no collaboration to find a solution in the near future. We look forward to the Mayor providing leadership to move things forward quicker than they are moving now,” said Calatayud.
Supporters of the expansion can sign the petition online at https://expand.fiu.edu
“I’ll say this to the president of the fair, or to the Miami Dade commissioners but when you think about the long term success and advancement of the community, education is the number one thing, and that will not come through the Youth Fair in the same level that FIU can provide it. I think compromise means we have to work to see what we can do to be better for our community. And the community has spoken loud and clear about what they want,” said Collazo.
[image from Flickr]