Effects of life science park questioned

A small group of students who played a role in helping UNICCO successfully negotiate their contract with the university this semester are taking their activism to the streets of one of Miami’s most impoverished neighborhoods.

The UM student organization, S.T.A.N.D., also known as Students Toward a New Democracy, recently joined the Overtown Alliance, a group  that wants economic benefits from the University of Miami’s new multimillion-dollar Life Science and Technology Park that is being built on the edge of Overtown.

BUILDING BOOM: The above rendering shows what UM’s Life Science and Technology Park will look like upon completion this summer. The park will be located by Miller School of Medicine and the impoverished neighborhood of Overtown. Courtesy William Campanella

“We’re trying to nudge the university into helping Overtown because we feel it’s their responsibility, in terms of the funding of this park, and their position as the University of Miami,” said senior Kaan Ocbe, a S.T.A.N.D. member.

The Overtown Alliance feels that UM should give back to the neighborhood because without the economic status of the impoverished neighborhood of Overtown, Miami would never have received $60 million in Recovery Zone bonds, administered by the county.

“The county is able to get grant money by the federal government for cities deemed ‘slum’ and ‘blight,’” said Keith Ivory, a community organizer associated with the Overtown Alliance.

The park is currently under construction on NW Seventh Ave. and 20th street. It will provide facilities, infrastructure and interdisciplinary opportunities to foster the development of life sciences, technology and biotechnology innovations.

“They create economic clusters,” said Marcelo Radice, executive director of inter-American initiatives in the Miller School. “It’s a win-win for the university.”

While the university owns the land and will provide the faculty and institutions, Wexford Science & Technology, a private company, will own and manage the park.

“The university owns the land and we leased to Wexford, then they went ahead and created the actual building,” Radice said.

As a result of the construction of the life science park in a low-income community, Wexford received Recovery Zone facility bonds to help with the construction of the building. The bonds are part of a federal program that allocates funds to areas defined by the county to have gross poverty and unemployment. Overtown, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Miami, has a median household income under $14,000. The average U.S. poverty line for a family of four is $22,050.

The Overtown Alliance, a coalition made up of S.T.A.N.D., grassroots organizations, churches and other community organizers, feels that the neighborhood deserves some of the benefits the park will produce.

So far to promote their cause, S.T.A.N.D. has assisted the alliance with a rally, has reached out to UM professors to build awareness and has held a vigil during which they asked for signatures to petition President Shalala and the university to agree that the park will not displace the Overtown community.

Wexford has already given $700,000 worth of grants to organizations working to promote change in Overtown. The company is also working with Lindsey Hopkins Vocational School and Miami-Dade College to provide job training for residents seeking employment in the park.

S.T.A.N.D. and the alliance said Wexford’s efforts were a fine start, but the residents want sustainable long-term goals like health, education and land.

Both Wexford and the university are interested in meeting and helping the community, but the alliance wants Wexford and UM to commit to a “terms of engagement” and to meet each month and discuss the issues. Ivory, an organizer with the Alliance said that, as of now, they have not scheduled another meeting.

Ocbe, of S.T.A.N.D., said that the Overtown Alliance and S.T.A.N.D. are trying to compromise with the university.

“We want to be allies,” Ocbe said. “For all the lofty things they say about being community leaders, we want them to practice what they preach.”

Andrea Concepcion may be contacted at aconcepcion@themiamihurricane.com.