Miami-Dade County fair may exit to new site as Florida International University moves in
By Yudislaidy Fernandez
To accommodate Florida International University's expansion in Tamiami, the neighboring county fair is looking for alternative 250-acre sites to relocate, but finding the spot and the funds raises two tall hurdles.
A taskforce of fair, university and county stakeholders is now looking into the feasibility of relocating the 60-year-old Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition.
The motive behind a possible relocation is that "FIU has a very ambitious plan with the School of Medicine and the growth in the university, but at the main campus location, they have no other way to go but the space we [the fair] occupy," said Manny J. Rodriguez, chairman of the fair's board of directors and Miami-Dade regional director of Florida Power & Light.
The fair has a 99-year lease with landowner Miami-Dade County Park and Recreation Department on the 86 acres at 10901 SW 24th St. within the Tamiami Park complex.
The exploratory taskforce includes Sandra Gonzalez-Levy, senior vice president for external relations at FIU; Jack Kardys, Miami-Dade's park and recreation director; and Phillip Clark, CEO of Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition. The fair's board of directors is overseeing the process.
A deal would only be executed if it's acceptable to everybody, Mr. Kardys said.
"All three parties are looking at it with open eyes and understanding from each entity's perspective," he said.
The search is exploratory at this early stage, added Ms. Gonzalez-Levy, who is leading efforts from the university side.
The Fair, held during March and April, attracts more than 500,000 visitors annually. Other events take place on the fairgrounds throughout the year.
To relocate, the not-for-profit organization would need to acquire a site that is about 250 acres, with enough space to park up to 18,000 cars.
At its current home, significantly smaller than the site being sought, the county fair uses some of FIU's parking facilities and land at Tamiami Park to provide enough parking.
"But if we move to a location where those neighbors are not around, we need a site of about 250 acres, and there are not too many sites like that in Miami-Dade," said Mr. Rodriguez.
Location is a key factor because the fair has to be accessible to patrons.
"Our preference is to go north, not south," Mr. Rodriguez said. "Most of these sites are in that vicinity. They are west because of the availability of land."
But with the land acquisition and relocation likely to cost around $300 million, finding the funding is a big undertaking.
"When you look at budget cuts at the state level, it won't be an easy task to find $300 million for this project," Mr. Rodriguez said. "But, at least we are looking at it and moving forward, and we'll see."
When identifying a site, he said, the committee must consider issues such as accessibility and environmental conditions.
As the search for potential sites continues, he said, the biggest challenge is "finding a site that fits our needs and at the same time, a site that meets the approval of our clientele."
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