Why would Minnesota bring the World’s Fair to the U.S.?

Milan 2015 Expo via Wikimedia
Milan 2015 Expo via Wikimedia

A group of politicians and civic leaders has come together to bring the World’s Fair to Minnesota in 2023.  The fair, called “2023 Expo,” would run from May 15-August 15 during Minnesota’s brief, but busy summer season. A World’s Fair Expo hasn’t been held in the United States since 1984, when New Orleans had to be bailed out by the federal government after declaring bankruptcy over the project.  Minnesota’s only active competition to host the 2023 Expo is Izmir, Turkey.  The expo is being billed as a “crowd-sourced global event” by the organizing committee which recently sent a delegation from Minnesota to Milan, Italy to check out the 2015 World’s Fair currently underway in the city.

Former secretary of state, Mark Ritchie, is the driving force behind the bid to bring the fair to Minnesota and has admitted that security and public money will be needed to host the event which promises to bring a mind-boggling 12 million visitors to a state with only 5.5 million residents.  (For comparison’s sake the 2008 RNC brought 45,000 visitors, the 2016 Ryder Cup anticipates 45,000 visitors, and the 2018 Super Bowl projects 100,000 visitors.)

So who will pay?

Ritchie, the President and CEO of the Expo 2023 bid committee, told KSTP in July, “There’s going to have to be a very large discussion about security. This is a serious matter.”  He told the Minneapolis City council that “An event like this has certain things that will stretch public resources.” Minnesota has been struggling to stop local residents from being recruited to overseas terrorist groups, which may make the issue of security even more challenging.

Congress appropriates money to pay for security at political party conventions, like the $50 million for the 2008 Republican National Convention (RNC) held in the Twin Cities. Whether the World’s Fair expo in Minnesota would be reimbursed as a “National Special Security Event” from the Department of Homeland Security is unknown.

Minnesotans may recall that the 2008 RNC resulted in some 300 arrests during violent protests held in St. Paul and a government commission was formed to study the problems with the event.

Milan, Italy is currently hosting the longer six-month 2015 World’s Fair which opened with thousands of anti-globalization protesters in the streets back in May. Milan’s Expo was estimated to cost $1.7 billion per the New York Times.

Proests in Milan Italy, May 2015, via Wikimedia
Protests in Milan Italy, May 2015, via Wikimedia

Why host a fair  in Minnesota when the United States isn’t a member nation?

The first World’s Fair was held in London in 1851, although the United Kingdom, like the United States, is no longer one of the 168 countries who make up the Bureau of International Expositions (BIE) headquartered in Paris.  The BIE is financed by membership fees and by taking a royalty based on the gate fees at the expos.

The BIE explains the modern mission of the events: “Expos must be capable to inspire and connect the actions of governments and civil society in their common endeavor to match available resources to the universal challenges we all face.”

The U.S. State Department oversaw the exhibit at the 2010 Shanghai fair with a $61 million pavilion funded by sponsors.  The expo theme that year was “urban sustainability” and produced a document created with the assistance of the United Nations and the communist Chinese government titled, “A Guide for Sustainable Urban Development of the 21st Century.”

The 2015 fair in Milan saw a $60 million U.S. pavilion with the theme: “How do we feed a future of 9 billion people without destroying the planet itself?” and addressed genetically modified organisms or GMO’s.  China will host another expo in Beijing in 2019 with the theme, “Live Green, Live Better.”  The Minnesota Expo 2023’s theme is: “Wellness and well-being for all: Healthy People, Healthy Planet.”

It’s fitting, that Mark Ritchie’s, whose activism on the global stage is the stuff of legend, would head the Minnesota committee.  The Utne reader interviewed the longtime organizer in 2001, “The challenge now, says Ritchie, is to organize that cacophony of voices so that activists can present a positive alternative vision of global cooperation that is rooted in principles of sustainability, respect for diversity, and social justice.” Ritchie was an organizer of the infamous World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999.

The ideals that Ritchie espouses are what the modern World’s Fair organization is all about. Ritchie told KSTP that, “We are embedded in a kind of global community that wants that World’s Fair on health and wellness to be in Minnesota.”

Vicente Gonzalez Loscertales, secretary general of the BIE told the New York Times in 2013, “For the hosts, expos are a key part of a strategic plan for urban development and act as catalysts for accelerating infrastructural transformations.”  Hosting a World’s Fair with a focus on Minnesota as “America’s Most Bikeable City” and after more light rail lines are built, will undoubtedly forward a progressive agenda.  KSTP reported that “three members of a group called North American High Speed Rail, which wants to build high speed rail between the Twin Cities and Rochester, were also included in the Minnesota delegation in Milan.”

Republicans join the cause

In September, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, (R-Crown) traveled to Milan along with Ritchie, and 17 others, in order to check out the fair site.   The trip was financed through the bid committee.Expo

District Director for Congressman Erik Paulsen, J.P. Yates, and Chief of staff for Congressman Tom Emmer, David Fitzsimmons, also took the weeklong trip to Milan to check out the expo.  Yates was designated as the “point person coordinating with the MN World’s Fair Bid Committee” on the travel approval Rep. Paulsen signed in August.   Travel for Yates was also paid for by the Expo 2023 committee.  Online records for Rep. Emmer’s office were not available.

The bid committee includes former Governor Arne Carlson and Margaret Carlson Nelson as honorary Co-Chairs along with former Met Council Chairs Peter Bell and Sue Haigh.  Climate activist Will Steger and top level Dayton advisor, Kathy Tunheim, also serve on the committee along with elder statesmen Walter Mondale and Rudy Boschwitz.  A combination of labor-union and corporations sponsor the committee per their website.

Ritchie returned from the Milan visit and told KSTP that, “There’s people making music. There’s people marching and dancing.”  The event also featured some very bad art and downright weird exhibits.  Check out the Hyperallergic art blog written in late September to get an idea of what a World’s Fair looks like these days.  The blogger asks why– in the internet age– the event is still relevant. Some western government are asking the same question.

The governments of Canada and Australia didn’t participate in the Milan Expo this year.  News reports of the event highlight the cost-overruns and corruption that has plagued committee. Combine that with violent protests and Minnesota’s unique security concerns and taxpayers should be asking more questions about the event being quietly planned and promoted.

The 2023 host city will be announced in Paris next year.