overtown-biotech-facility-protest_web.jpgFlorida International University

OVERTOWN — The University of Miami dedicated its Life Science & Technology Park in Overtown on Sept. 20 but the event was marred by protestors who said the university is not doing enough for residents.

Several hundred people, including Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Miami Mayor Tomas Regaldo, attended the ceremony in the first of five buildings to be built in the center which will offer laboratories, offices and retail space to be used by scientists and health-care startups as a place to work and collaborate. 

“This is more than a building. This is a place where education, research, and technology intersect with discovery and innovation,” said Donna Shalala, the university’s president.

Outside, about 20 protestors, including U.M. students, residents and members of the Power U Center for Social Change and Low Income Families Together, chanted and held up signs demanding the university pay more attention to the neighborhood surrounding the facility.

Dylan Beasley, 20, a member of Students Toward a New Democracy, said the protestors supported the project but wanted the university to do more for the neighborhood and prevent gentrification that will drive them out.

“I think the important part to know here is we really are not against the biotech park; we think it's a wonderful thing. They have the ability to give jobs to the community and we think they are really ethically obligated because of the special public benefits they received,” Beasley said.

The university says it has done well by the community.

“I can't emphasize this enough: The great challenge of Miami is not simply to create jobs but to create good jobs and train people for those jobs,” Shalala said.

The $100 million, six-story, 225,000-square-foot R+D One was developed by Wexford Science and Technology which guaranteed 15 percent of all construction contracts to minority businesses and 30 percent of construction jobs to local residents.

Wexford also provided $700,000 in grants to local communities and U.M. has partnered with local health, youth, education and other programs.

Also, $5.8 million went to offer opportunities to small businesses and $400,000 in federal funds will go to train workers for positions in the science and bio-tech

industries.

University officials say the first phase of the project will provide 1,150 jobs and nearly 3,000 more with companies that provide goods and services to the

occupants of the facility.

The research will eventually comprise between 1.6 million and 2 million square feet of space.

Protestors question whether some of the

commitments came through.

“The University of Miami builds good PR saying 30 percent of our work force is from the community,” said Beasley. He said a list of ZIP codes showing from where workers came contained only one that includes Overtown.

They also fear increasing property values in the neighborhood will drive away residents who cannot afford to pay rent.

But careful planning by developers, not the university, is key to stopping gentrification, said Marcelo Radice, executive director of the park.

“If the workforce housing comes along and they're concerned about being pushed out, because they can no longer afford to live in these areas, that has to be carefully planned out with the developers," Radice said.

"But we're not a developer of workforce housing; we're a developer of science buildings," he said.

Lee Castro may be reached at lcast009@fiu.edu;  Leonela Bravo may be reached at lbrav004@fiu.edu

Photo: LEONELA BRAVO/FIU

DEMONSTRATION: Protestors display signs at the dedication of the University of Miami’s Life Science & Technology Park in Overtown on Sept. 20.