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Organizers tout economic upside in World’s Fair bid

Karlee Weinmann//April 15, 2015

Organizers tout economic upside in World’s Fair bid

Karlee Weinmann//April 15, 2015

Lois Quam
Lois Quam
Harry Melander
Harry Melander

The committee hoping to bring the World’s Fair to Minnesota in 2023 officially announced its bid on Friday, touting the event as a long-term economic boon for the state.

By hosting the massive three-month event, expected to draw between 10 million and 15 million visitors in summer 2023, organizers said Minnesota would land in the global spotlight. But the impact would be bigger than the influx of tourism dollars, the business and local leaders said.

The Expo 2023 effort would put more momentum behind the state’s push to bill itself as a destination, organizers said, particularly to attract sought-after young professionals — a population seen as a huge value-add.

“We all know Minnesota has been gaining national and international recognition on a number of fronts,” said Marilyn Carlson Nelson, co-chair of the Expo 2023 advisory committee and former chair and CEO of the Carlson Cos. “This is going to be a nice complement for that.”

The expo, which would push a theme of health and wellness, would provide a platform for Minnesota companies to reach a broader audience, potentially inviting new trading partners and investors from beyond the state’s borders.

“I see trade and investment opportunities here having a very long tail,” said co-chair Lois Quam, singling out especially high potential for Minnesota companies that are already market leaders in the health, clean water and other industries. Quam, a former executive with Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group, is now chief operating officer of the Nature Conservancy.

Still, big logistics questions loom as the $1.5 million bid process kicks into high gear.

The committee needs to find a site big enough to accommodate 62-acre plans for the fair that gives attendees relatively easy access to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and other attractions, including sites in greater Minnesota.

The North American High Speed Rail Group is a founding supporter of the effort, and the fair bid puts momentum on what would be a landmark infrastructure project to help streamline trips to Rochester, Duluth and other corners of the state, said Expo 2023 advisory committee chair Mark Ritchie, who previously served as Minnesota secretary of state.

Site selection is expected to last into next year. So far, Ritchie said the committee has zeroed in on “quite a few opportunities” and will likely plant the event in the Twin Cities metro area.

Speaking at an event last year, Ritchie named Rosemount’s 5,000-acre UMore Park development site, the 125-acre former Ford Motor Co. facility in St. Paul and the 427-acre former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant in Arden hills as potential candidates.

“We are blessed here in the Twin Cities with lots of good possibilities,” Ritchie said on Friday, noting pushes from officials in Shakopee as well as Rochester, suggesting at least one outstate option.

When organizers settle on a location, a private developer will build accommodations for visitors and presenters, a mix of countries and local outfits. That developer will hang onto the site for 100 years, Ritchie said.

The Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council, an early supporter of the project, affirmed its involvement on Friday.

“We were here early and we’re going to stay for the long haul,” said Harry Melander, the council’s president and a Metropolitan Council member.

Ritchie said it was too early to forecast how big a boost the fair would give to Minnesota’s construction industry and other sectors but said the lead-up to past world’s fairs has propped up local jobs numbers in a big way.

Despite the prospect of front-loaded gains, though, past expos have sometimes proved a financial drain on their hosts. In 1984, the last time a fair took place in the United States, the Louisiana World Exposition declared bankruptcy before the event was over.

While Ritchie said Expo 2023 isn’t trying to turn a major profit, business analysis from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management predicts modest gains based on a $20-per-person entry fee and expected daily attendance on par with the State Fair’s figures.

Organizers aren’t expecting public funding for the project. So far, Ritchie said they’ve crowd-funded about two-thirds of the bid’s $1.5 million price tag and will look for new contributors of all sizes — mainly businesses with Minnesota ties – to bridge the gap.

Even though private funding will propel the bid, public officials will play a pivotal role.

“We’re not expecting public money but we need excellent cooperation from local governments,” Ritchie said.

Organizers expect to fine-tune the bid before the end of the year. The U.S. State Department will then pitch it to the selection committee in June 2016, with a decision expected in November of next year.

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