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Front Page » Opinion » Battle of the Fairgrounds already ugly enough; stop it now

Battle of the Fairgrounds already ugly enough; stop it now

Written by on November 1, 2016
Battle of the Fairgrounds already ugly enough; stop it now

Florida International University’s six-year power play to force the Miami-Dade County Fair & Exposition off land beside its main campus so that the 44-year-old school can expand to become the nation’s largest public university is getting even uglier.

The university last month implied that if the fair won’t vacate county parkland it has under lease and move to far south Miami-Dade, the university might sue the county to break the fair’s contract.

Fair officials responded with legalities of their own, writing that FIU is not a party to the fair-county contract and must stop improperly interfering with that agreement. Contract interference could be the basis for a legal case against FIU.

That leaves three pillars of our community – our county government, our public university and our county fair – rattling sabers in a war over land.

The fair’s home is under a very favorable, perfectly legal lease that the county granted through 2085. The fair started using the land in 1971, and the university opened the next year.

But next door, the university is itching to expand. It says it can go nowhere except the fair site, which is questionable because it holds classes elsewhere and has added more sites. But it finds the fairgrounds appealing because it hopes to get them free.

FIU got a referendum passed in 2014 to make it legal to operate on the fairgrounds – if FIU can cut a deal to move the fair out. But the vote said the county can’t pay any costs of moving or finding the fair a new site with proper buildings. That leaves FIU to pay.

But the fair is hanging tough. Its lease says it can only be forced out if it gets an equal or better site and someone else pays to replace or upgrade its structures. The contract, however, doesn’t spell out what an adequate replacement must be.

FIU, the fair and the county have been debating this for years. The fair has long agreed to move if it’s left in equal position. The battle has been that FIU wants to be sole judge of what is best for the fair – and the fair isn’t buying what FIU is selling.

The fair, the university and the county jointly funded a study that rated sites and found that the fair would lose massive attendance and money in a move to Homestead, yet FIU is saying that Homestead is the ideal and only site for the fair – because FIU must pay for the move and the Homestead site is all it can afford.

Naturally, the fair doesn’t want to sign its own death warrant in that move. It has offered to share its present site with FIU, and the fair and the university have met to work on that. But FIU President Mark Rosenberg says that’s too expensive – he just wants the fair out of his hair and in Homestead, as he told the fair by letter.

Some people argue that the university serves more people and is more important to Miami-Dade than the fair, which hosted more than 600,000 people this year and has year-round events on site besides.

If importance to the community were the criterion, we’d agree that a large public university would rank ahead of a fair – but that definitely is not the issue.

The fact is that the fair has a legitimate property right in a lease it signed with county government. FIU has no right of eminent domain that supersedes the county or the fair and is in fact no part of that contract.

Property rights do not depend on who is bigger or more worthy or more important. They’re based on who has the right to the property. It’s a basic tenet of our form of government.

As for expansion, FIU certainly has that right, though its aim to grow to what would be the largest US public university places size far ahead of quality. We’d wish FIU aimed to raise its rankings to befit its present size and to graduate students far better prepared for their future and for the community’s needs.

But those are not the apparent aims. FIU wants land not to get better but to get bigger.

Well, let FIU pursue its path to massive growth. But that path cannot trample property rights – or, indeed, the right of its neighbor to maintain the fair’s present size and economic health.

Certainly, too, the university that we all hope will be a major force for better education should not put itself in the improper position of threatening to try to break a contract to which it is not a party. No wonder fair President and CEO Robert Hohenstein raised concerns about illegal contract interference. What else could you call what the university is trying to do?

The fair has lived up to its name – playing fair. Though it’s not required to do so, it has offered to share its site. President Rosenberg says no, just get out of your home and head for 127 county-owned acres in Homestead, where a much-diminished fair in an agriculture center can become an adjunct to FIU.

Unfortunately for us all, FIU is building a good case for the fair to sue our public university for substantial damages that the university can’t afford to pay.

To prove intentional contract interference, the fair must show that it has a valid contract with the county, which it does; that FIU knows about the contract, which is does; that the university acted intentionally, which it certainly is doing, and improperly, which the court would decide; and that the fair was injured, which it assuredly will be if FIU tries to break its contract.

We had hoped that a cooperative agreement would see a sharing of the fairgrounds. The university says no, it wants them all so get out.

The next best hope is that FIU trustees recalibrate their aims to say that 65,000 students in the next few years may not be as important as having the present 55,000 get better educations – gains measured not in added acreage and number of new buildings but in educational attainment. We’d like higher national educational rankings for FIU, not higher enrollment totals.

But if it must expand, FIU should start looking at its north campus on Biscayne Bay or other vacant land, or make better use of its current campus. Maybe it should emulate the University of Miami with off-campus football, because Miami has plenty of stadiums. FIU should get as creative with land it already has as it is with county land that’s leased to the fair.

But whatever course FIU chooses, it should not deem that the fair is somehow less worthy of existence and so must be sent by whatever means to wither and die to let FIU expand. That course can only end up in court and in the end diminish the county, the fair and the university.

Hasn’t this battle gotten ugly enough already?

13 Responses to Battle of the Fairgrounds already ugly enough; stop it now

  1. DC Copeland

    November 2, 2016 at 6:54 am

    “FIU should get as creative with land it already has…” Like going vertical with new buildings instead of expanding via a land grab. Or, investing in expanding online learning courses which means anyone anywhere can take classes at FIU (if they can afford them) and not have to put up with the traffic crawl to the Everglades campus. Leave the Youth Fair alone. It’s embarrassing watching this thing play out and disheartening to see how FIU is so clueless about how it makes it look to the world. In fact, it reminds me of the infamous “FIU Clueless Fighting Question Marks” post:

  2. George Dagnesses

    November 2, 2016 at 10:56 am

    While the perspective of FIU growing to further the education of our young adults is sensible. I find it disturbing that they lack the respect warranted of a Miami-Dade institution as is the Youth Fair in my view, In addition to the fact that the land also offers many other venues for the enjoyment of our populous, and has done so for decades. I totally disagree with the assessment that one is better of more beneficial than the other. After all, the youth fair and its many venues offer a far more intrinsic value to the general population. This venue should be protected for the general public period

  3. long-time resident

    November 2, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    Someone should ask how ‘The Fair’ managed to sign such a sweetheart deal, for 100 years, next to the State University of South Florida, which clearly was growing by leaps and bounds and addresses this communities pent-up need for affordable, high-level education.

    It was politics then which makes it political now.

    Note: FIU has the least amount of land (by far) of any other state university. Also, the Fair runs 2 weeks a year; all the other events are very minor and could be held almost anywhere.

    • Ben Grimm

      November 22, 2016 at 1:11 pm

      “The fair started using the land in 1971, and the university opened the next year.” The politics of Firsties.

  4. Daniel Louisdor

    November 2, 2016 at 2:08 pm

    The Fair and FIU should share the land. It’s that simple. They should be creative. The Fair is only around for about a month anyway.

  5. MK

    November 2, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    It is troubling that the main goal of FIU is to become the largest public university in the US. Shouldn’t their goal be to make it the best? Mr. Rosenberg has an over-inflated ego; which benefits him, not his students. The fair has bent over backwards to try to work with FIU. Last year during the fair FIU decided to close an entrance that the fair was using for parking. The ensuing traffic jam was a danger to public safety as ambulances were stuck for several hours,very childish FIU.

  6. long-time resident

    November 2, 2016 at 5:55 pm

    you’re right, elephant ears and the ‘himalaya’ should be on par with providing thousands of local citizens with the ability to earn high-paying professional degrees. And what would we do if we lost all that revenue those carny’s bring to town each year.

    It really is an absurd arguement; but I guess politics make strange bedfellows.

  7. Alian Collazo

    November 2, 2016 at 7:08 pm

    FIU’s expansion has the overwhelming support of Miami-Dade County voters, 65 percent of whom voted yes in 2014 on a question about the Fair moving and FIU expanding.
    Yes.The Fair has a contract. FIU has worked for 6 years with the County and the Fair to find a site that meets the Fair’s acreage and access requirements. The ideal site has been located in South Dade, and now the Fair refuses to move.
    How much longer should FIU wait? How much longer should we put off the building of a new engineering facility where jobs will be created, discoveries will be made and new companies will be started?
    The Fair, while valuable and important to our community, cannot and should not be equated with our public university. It is time for the Fair to move so FIU can expand.

  8. Marshall Jones

    November 2, 2016 at 10:44 pm

    I have a proposition that will aid all parties involved and save tax payers locally & statewide millions in legal fees.

    Be sure to follow up with me on this one.

    As a life long resident raised by a life long resident, I truly hate to hear the words “eminent domain” or any of the like. This truly is a shame for our municipalities and a state college to be put at odds over interest in land use. The idea I have for both parties will benefit the entire local community and boost the economy of the broad local area and should nearly double the potential capitol for the fair!

  9. Jose

    November 3, 2016 at 11:09 am

    Seriously, A fair that opens a few weeks a year is holding the growth of South Florida?

    If we want serious HIGH paying jobs, to come here, it starts with the quality of our universities and right now FIU isn’t competitive. We need to get FIU to become closer to U Michigan or UCLA and not another state college. The Fair needs to be move and the county needs to help them move. Create a park that is used year round and include the Fair in it. Right now the Fair sits on land that is not used continually, by the public. The land is only use on some weekends and when the carnies come to town. High-tech industries are not looking at the Fair and saying we need to go to Miami.

  10. FIU Alumni

    November 3, 2016 at 3:57 pm

    Property rights and binding contracts are an integral part of our society. This is an attempted land grab, then blame if you don’t get what you want. The fact is that FIU is over enrolled as it is. Both UCLA and Michigan have smaller enrollments. UCLA has a smaller campus than FIU. Look it up!

    Doctor Rosenberg has tried to bully and blame for over a year and now he can’t take a step back without checking his ego. Limit enrollment, improve research and make acceptance tougher. There are no great universities with enrollment of 60k. Grow smarter, not bigger. Make us proud not angry.

  11. Hugo

    November 4, 2016 at 2:19 pm

    Personally as an FIU alumni and a resident of Miami Dade County since 1995. I really could care less about the fair. The fair was a nice place in the 1990’s when it was sort of respectful and the university was not as big as it is right now, but like anything in this world- times have changed. I remember watching the Everglades and Panther hall staff cringed when I was a student as the fair arrived mostly because of the increase of crime it brought on campus. There has been so many reports of assault and theft related to the workers from the fair itself that the university has done its best to disdain itself from the event. I also don’t believe that the fair has benefited the community besides opening up for a few months for people’s enjoyment on which the only thing I have seen besides the “fair” were a few gun shows and other events that probably brought in less than 100 persons. I do believe that FIU has the potential to be the UCLA (Funny, because I come from Westwood) of the east and expanding the university would benefit them and the community as we live in a key city geographically in domestic and international trade. We should be able to use our resources to improve, not remain nostalgic because of a location. Besides the university would give more permanent job opportunities in the 100’s compared to the fair that would probably contract seasonally.

    • Ben Grimm

      November 22, 2016 at 2:10 pm

      The article mentioned that FIU would do better by improving the education of its graduates. When an alumni (with no childhood roots in Miami) uses anecdotes and non-factual statistics to discount the influence a county fair has over its long-term citizens it’s evident the university failed in educating their students.

      It’s as bad as the “ole timers” who enjoyed the Fair for decades and then became grinches who want to stamp the Fair out for everyone behind them.

      It’s the only time transplants and townies see eye-to-eye. Hilarious!