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March 24, 2011

To the University Community:

In 2005 when the University and Camillus House announced a historic agreement to swap land in Overtown, resulting in Camillus finally building a new home, The Miami Herald’s editorial board, recognizing the far-reaching potential of a new bioscience park, declared that “the deal promises benefits that will reverberate throughout Miami and all of South Florida.”

Most importantly, we also had enthusiastic support from the elected officials and the neighboring community, which was eager to see an undeveloped parcel of land enhance its economic potential for area residents.

Recently the University of Miami Life Science & Technology Park (UM LSTP) has also been the target of a small group of activists who claim to represent the interests of the Overtown community where the new park is located. We have heard their concerns as well as the concerns of other organizations and individuals who live and work in Overtown. Since the beginning of this project, we have worked very hard to take the appropriate steps to address all legitimate points related to the Park’s impact on the surrounding community. The UM LSTP is more than right for our Health District community—it is essential for improving quality of life through jobs, education, and innovation.

There are always two or more sides to a story—but when the rhetoric selectively leaves out important and relevant information, it’s time to get factual.

Over the past year as construction of phase one has progressed, the University of Miami in partnership with the Park’s developer, Wexford Science & Technology, has been working with community, business, educational, and government leaders to ensure that the UM LSTP is a positive force in Overtown.

Leaders in Overtown have rightfully been skeptical about promises that are not fulfilled. But the reality is that the University of Miami is fully committed to the long haul. Our presence in Overtown didn’t just begin with this project—we have a long history of outreach in the area through the Miller School of Medicine, the School of Education, the Department of Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences, the Butler Center for Volunteer Service and Leadership Development, and The Launch Pad, just to name a few. Our UM doctors have been providing free health care at the Jefferson Reaves Clinic for years and recently made a new commitment to the Overtown Youth Center.

For a more complete list of our community outreach programs, visit ‘Canes in the Community.

We can certainly do more, and I invite everyone—students, faculty, staff, and alumni—to help us explore and develop new ways to maintain a fully engaged and responsive community presence at the UM LSTP. I also urge you to read our informational brochure “Life Science & Technology Park and the Community,” which provides an overview of the project and its impact on the community, including the $700,000 in grants awarded by Wexford to not-for-profits in the area.

Here are some of the facts I’d like to share with you:

Innovation and Education: The UM LSTP will generate technologies and discoveries that will save lives, ease suffering, and provide hope. It will also be an educational satellite for both the Miller School and the College of Engineering and will evolve as a resource for industries that want to build world-class educational partnerships.

Jobs: Construction of phase one has created more than 500 jobs of which close to 34 percent have gone to residents of Overtown and the surrounding neighborhoods—far exceeding the 15 percent goal Wexford voluntarily set for itself. When completed, buildings one and two will create more than 400 new jobs for both professional and support staff. Additionally, the Park’s economic impact will help create jobs in affiliated industries and trades.

Employment and Educational Opportunities: The Health District institutions will always have employment needs. These jobs will in most cases require special skills and knowledge. We are working with key educational partners to both develop educational programs tailored to the needs of the UM LSTP and to help channel educational and employment opportunities to area residents. We expect to announce a formal program in the near future.

Because we are also committed to education overall—and to a college education specifically—we are reinvigorating existing programs with local schools to encourage academically qualified students to attend UM.

Funding: The UM LSTP was launched as a privately funded venture by Wexford in collaboration with the University. Because of its scope and location, the project qualifies for select federal and local funds, most of which are in the form of low-interest bonds that must be repaid by the developer. These funds are targeted and require that the UM LSTP fulfill binding job creation criteria.

It is vital for us to continue moving forward, and we will do so openly and in the spirit of doing what is best for the community. Responsible progress has to start somewhere, and we are already on board and fully committed.