Minnesota makes bid for World’s Fair

Workers wait for the arrival of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi for a visit at the construction site of the Universal Exhibition 2015 (Expo Milano 2015 or World Exposition 2015) in Milan on March 13, 2015. Photo: GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP/Getty Images.
  1. Listen MPR News’ Tim Nelson reports

There’s probably a lesson in the fact that the one World’s Fair people are able to name is the one that wasn’t sanctioned by the international body that awards world’s fairs — New York in 1964 and 1965.

There might be people who can instantly tell you that this year’s World’s Fair is in Milan, or that the 2017 edition is in Kazakhstan, but the next person you meet on the street probably isn’t one of them.

So it’s unlikely that too many people are going to be on the edge of their seats in the competition for the 2023 World’s Fair between Copenhagen, the Canary Islands, Newscastle and Minnesota.

Today, the people who brought you the 2018 Super Bowl unveiled their latest effort to get the world to notice us in flyover country, by announcing its intention to attract an event that relatively few people care about — a World’s Fair.

Or do they?

In making it announcement today, the committee organizing its bid insisted that at the moment, Milan is the top tourist destination on the planet.

World Fairs, often called Expos, occur every few years. Large Expos, lasting six-months, are organized every five years while shorter ones, lasting three months, are schedule between longer versions. The 2010 Shanghai Expo had 73 million visitors and the 2012 Yeosu Expo in Korea attracted nearly 9 million. The 2015 Expo will focus on food and be held in Milan, Italy from May until November. With anticipated attendance of over 20 million visitor, Expo 2015 has made Milan the top tourism destination on the planet. Minnesota’s bid has the support of EXPO USA, the national non-profit organization that promotes World Fairs in the United States.

Not everyone is buying the Milan hype, including the guy who was one of its masterminds.

“These expos have become huge shows designed merely to attract millions of tourists,” architect Jacques Herzog said in an interview with Berlin-based architecture magazine Uncube. “What a bore and a waste of money and resources!”

He said the format is “a very profitable business for only a very few, and a financial disaster for the hosting city or country.”

“Such events will increasingly take place in countries where democratic systems are not so well developed and such shows serve as propaganda for the political regime,” he added.

That would appear to be a minus for Minnesota’s bid, depending on what political side you’re talking to, I suppose.

The Shanghai World’s Fair in 2010, however, was the most heavily attended in history, the New York Times reported in its review of the impact of such endeavors.

It also noted what a bust it was when Louisiana tried to muscle its way onto the international stage in the ’80s.

The 1984 Louisiana World Exposition in New Orleans, which had low attendance and financing problems, was forced to declare bankruptcy. It managed to stay open until its closing day only because the United States government provided financial support.

And while expo officials count urban development as a major benefit of hosting, it comes at a cost. In the preparations for the Shanghai World Expo, Chinese authorities demolished thousands of homes and displaced 18,000 families, according to Amnesty International, a human rights group.

The U.S. hasn’t hosted a World’s Fair since.

In 1982, Knoxville hosted a World’s Fair. How many people remember that it was where the cellphone debuted, according to Paleofuture? The cellphone went on to big things. Knoxville? Meh.

The cell phone was another head-turner. By the time 1982 rolled around, various iterations of a wireless phone you could take anywhere had been around for a few years, but few people outside the labs of major electronics and telecom companies had actually seen one in real life. This one was actually installed in a car, making it an even cooler-sounding “car phone.” The big draw wasn’t just looking at this newfangled device, though. If your name got picked out of a hat, you could actually place a call to anywhere in the United States. From a car!

The fair was projected to run a $5 million surplus. It left Knoxville $46 million in debt, though it attracted 11 million visitors.

Minnesota’s theme, by the way, is “Healthy People, Healthy Planet – Wellness and Well-being for All.”