Florida International University won a warm embrace Wednesday from the Homestead City Council over its plan to combine the MIami-Dade Youth Fair with a new FIU-backed complex centered around agri-business on county-owned land just outside city limits.
The Youth Fair's new home would free FIU to expand onto the fair's current home next to its main campus, and bring a significant new commercial center and annual event to an area eager for economic development. Yet one big obstacle remains: the Youth Fair has called a move to to South Dade a "non-starter," saying the site is so remote it would cut attendance in half and bankrupt the event.
Wednesday's presentation before the Homestead City Council was FIU's latest stop in an effort to ratchet up pressure on the Youth Fair and county officials to find a way for the fair to leave its 86-acre home at Tamiami Park, which sits next to FIU. In 2014, county voters backed FIU expanding into the fairgrounds, provided the state school both secured an equivalent new home for the fair and paid its moving expenses (which, because of the fair's lease with Miami-Dade, would otherwise be paid for by the county).
With Miami-Dade already owning land outside the Homestead Air Reserve Base, FIU wouldn't need to acquire real estate if the Youth Fair was moved to South Dade. The school is proposing to meld its own mix of culinary and agricultural programs into a research and commercial center that would offer incubators and shared kitchens for farm-related businesses. And it would tie that campus to the Youth Fair's mission of promoting agriculture and farm life through its exhibitions.
FIU President Mark Rosenberg called it a "win-win-win" scenario Wednesday. "The project is financially feasible," he told council members. "Now is the right time to push for this project."
Rosenberg did not discuss the Youth Fair's adamant opposition to moving to the South Dade site, which sits about 20 miles south of the FIU campus. Council members said they welcomed the proposed project, and passed a resolution supporting it. "I am excited," Vice Mayor Patricia Fairclough said. "This is not just about bringing the fair to South Dade. It's about bringing the FIU brand."
In a statement, the Youth Fair said it has been clear the South Dade location would not work financially, and questioned why the state-funded school was pushing it while other locations are being studied. "We don't understand why FIU continues to expend taxpayer dollars for this site," the statement said.