OAS agency, Olympics group eye Miami area for office space
By Paola Iuspa
An Organization of the American States' agency in Washington, DC, and the World Olympians Association in Switzerland are looking into opening offices in the Miami area, state officials said.
Though the groups have no relation to each other, Hugh Simon, Florida undersecretary of state for international affairs, said he is meeting with community leaders to gather support from the private sector to move both here. The state, in conjunction with local business leaders, would be expected to provide office space, equipment and administrative assistance for both organizations, he said.
"In the atmosphere of budget cutting in Tallahassee," Mr. Simon said, "we have very few possibilities for financing the office space they need."
He pointed to the special legislative session Gov. Jeb Bush convened this week to trim the budget, which is projected to be $1.5 billion short. Mr. Simon said he would try to squeeze some state money for the OAS office after the pending cuts had been made.
The OAS Inter-American Agency for Cooperation & Development, he said, would need about 2,000 square feet for a training center for teachers of primary and secondary education in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Olympians' group needs about 500 square feet for its planned regional office for the Americas, he said.
"The plan is in a beginning state," said Cece McVaugh, the OAS agency's chief of staff. "We still need to decide which operations we would be moving. It is not a done deal yet."
Luis Lauredo, a former ambassador for the Organization of the American States appointed by President Bill Clinton, said if the agency goes ahead with the plan it would send a message to the world. The OAS, which brings nations of the Americas together to work on shared goals such as democracy, human rights and trade, about one year ago created the agency for cooperation and development.
Hosting the agency here "would show growing recognition of Miami as a center for Inter-American organizations," he said.
The six-year-old World Olympians Association assists former athletes worldwide, gets them involved in promoting the games and advocates a fair-game, no-discrimination message around the world, said Liston Bochette, association secretary general. The Miami office would design educational programs for Latin America, arrange the exchange of athletic programs and coaches and distribute magazines and information while hosting events to promote the Olympics.
The nonprofit group could also help Tampa-Central Florida host the 2012 Olympic Games if that region wins the bid, Mr. Simon said.
Mr. Bochette, a native Floridian, said although the organization is targeting space in Coral Gables, any place close to Miami International Airport will do. Mr. Bochette, who would occupy the Miami office, said there is no deadline for the state to come up with an office but "the sooner the better" because it would give South Florida exposure during this winter's Salt Lake City games.
When the association decided to expand its presence in the world, he said it pinpointed important cities in each of four regions and Miami was the logical site for the Western Hemisphere.
"Miami is the bridge to the Americas," Mr. Bochette said.
He said he also has an offer from a city in Canada to open this region's office. The association will open its Asian region office in early November in Osaka, Japan, while the European and African operations would continue running from the headquarters, he said.
Mr. Simon said he has met with members of the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Beacon Council the county's economic development agency and the chamber of commerce and mayor of Coral Gables.
"Everybody likes the idea," he said, "but we can not find someone willing to donate the space.
"If we get the office space donated for the first two years, then the state will provide a secretary on a temporary basis and get in-kind donations for furniture and office equipment."