Fair takes offensive in site battle
Written by Lidia Dinkova on March 11, 2015
This year, the opening of the annual Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition comes with some extra bang.
Representatives of The Youth Fair went on the offensive in a full-page ad that ran in last week’s Miami Today that reassured residents that the fair will be held for years to come at its usual location in Tamiami Park. Through the ad, The Youth Fair also outlined what it says are “false” ideas and proposals FIU has made about the fair and its relocation.
“Florida International University’s frenetic campaign to get The Youth Fair evicted from Tamiami Park so it can take over 64 acres of the Fairgrounds has misled Miami-Dade residents time and again. It has led to doubt among the public. Put those doubts to rest. We aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon. Despite FIU’s $1.6 million political campaign … Despite half-truths, propaganda and false statements,” part of the text in the ad read.
Last November, Miami-Dade voters approved a referendum question that ultimately exempted FIU from complying with development restrictions at Tamiami Park, a county park. FIU wants to expand and build dorms and research and academic facilities on 64 acres in the park. The Youth Fair is currently held at that location. The park is adjacent to the school’s Modesto A. Maidique campus. The voters approved for FIU to be exempted from the development restrictions at the park just the way The Youth Fair is currently exempted.
Robert Hohenstein, president and CEO of Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition Inc., told Miami Today that he ran the ad because this year the organization wanted to be proactive instead of reactive on the issue.
“I felt that we need to set the agenda, we need to frame the discussion and not allow what happened in 2014,” Mr. Hohenstein said, adding that at the time FIU spoke to other media outlets in town to present its perspective on the issue. “I thought it was time this year that we frame the discussion, we frame our position and not be responding to something from FIU.”
Among the allegations The Youth Fair makes against FIU in the ad is that the school has said that the voter approval in last year’s referendum gave FIU a “mandate” to expand onto the fairgrounds.
“It was not a mandate,” Mr. Hohenstein told Miami Today. “I am simply not going to allow any longer FIU to frame the conversation and allow them to use words such as mandate. Words have meaning … and elections have meaning and I felt it was time for the community to understand the meaning and the context of it being used.”
Through the ad, fair representatives went on to allege that FIU has said that fairs are losing popularity. The Youth Fair countered that by saying that its annual attendance has increased 22%.
“My feeling was that they were doing everything they could do to belittle the fair to convey a message to the community that it was an insignificant event,” Mr. Hohenstein said. “I simply could not allow that to happen in 2015.”
Attorney Richard Perez represents FIU in its bid to expand and responded to a request for comment on the ad.
“FIU’s expansion is a matter of critical importance to our community. It means expanding educational and economic opportunities for all of the County’s residents. FIU’s door will always be open to finding a mutually beneficial solution,” Mr. Perez, of Holland & Knight law firm, said in an emailed statement.
“We continue to hope that the Fair will come to the table to discuss reasonable alternative sites,” he further stated in the email.
Mr. Hohenstein has previously said that the responsibility to find a new site for the fair falls with the fair’s landlord, namely Miami-Dade County, and with FIU.
“I kind of feel that’s the responsibility of our landlord and FIU,” he told Miami Today. “If someone comes and knocks on your door and says, ‘I want to buy you an equal or better house.’ Well, where is it?”
The lease between the fair and the county expires in 2085 but it could be terminated early as long as the county secures “an equal or better alternate site in Dade County” for the fair, according to the lease.
Miami-Dade hasn’t evaluated potential new sites for the fair, said Michael Hernandez, spokesman for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, in an email.
Recently, a proposal to relocate the fair to Tropical Park surfaced but county officials said in a statement that the park isn’t suitable for the fair.
In past years, about 24 sites have been studied but none was determined as feasible for The Youth Fair.
The voter-approved referendum stipulates that Miami-Dade County isn’t on the hook for any relocation costs. That leaves FIU to bear that financial burden, which has been estimated to cost about $230 million. The fair is to also get a three-year notice before it is required to move, according to the lease between the fair and the county.
Since the voters approved the referendum question in November, the county has been working to identify feasible sites for The Youth Fair. Mr. Hernandez, of the mayor’s office, said that a report on the suggested sites will be transmitted to county commissioners by month’s end.