After Minnesota lost its bid Wednesday to host the 2023 World’s Fair, Bloomington officials began to turn to the question about what the city might do with the land it had planned to buy for the event.
The city had agreed to the $32.3 million purchase of Spruce Shadows Farm, a 59-acre farm south of the Mall of America, as the main site for Expo 2023.
But delegates from the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) in Paris decided instead Wednesday on Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the 2023 fair. Coming in second was Lodz, Poland.
Bloomington Mayor Gene Winstead, who was in Paris for the vote, said the city may decide to terminate its purchase agreement with the family that owns the farm. The city has until Nov. 30 to cancel the deal.
The sale “was contingent upon being selected for the Expo,” Winstead said. “Since we don’t have an immediate development or use for that property, we’ll probably let it go back.”
The City Council and Port Authority, an economic development arm of the city, will decide what to do at a joint meeting on Nov. 27. If they cancel the purchase, the city likely would lose the $75,000 it put down to hold the property.
Port Authority Administrator Schane Rudlang said the city could still use the farmland for other kinds of development but didn’t say what that might be.
“We don’t have the Expo now but we do have a lot of things that we were planning to go along with the Expo and after the Expo,” he said.
The bid site for the World’s Fair included the farmland and about 30 acres just north of it that is owned by the Mall of America. Developer Ryan Companies has shown interest in building on the MOA property.
“We are turning our attention to other things on that site,” said Carl Runck, director of real estate development with Ryan.
Rudlang also said the Port Authority is interested in using the property to lure Amazon, which is currently seeking a site for its second headquarters.
“We are going to aggressively pursue Amazon, for sure,” he said.
In the end, the city of Bloomington spent nearly $500,000 on Minnesota’s bid for the World’s Fair, Rudlang said. Mark Ritchie, president and CEO of the committee, estimated that the committee raised $1.7 million for the bid through private sources.
A disappointing outcome
The Minnesota bid committee had hoped to bring a World’s Fair to the United States for the first time since 1984, when New Orleans hosted the event.
Minnesota’s bid received 25 votes in the first round, fewer than the 46 votes given both Buenos Aires and Lodz. The Buenos Aires bid, themed “Creative Industries in Digital Convergence,” then received 62 votes, six more than Lodz, winning the competition.
Winstead said South American and European nations were more likely to support bids from their neighbors. The last time a South American nation hosted a World’s Fair was in 1935.
The result “was disappointing,” Winstead said after the announcement. “It was a very fine effort put together by the team. It didn’t work out.”
The Minnesota World’s Fair Bid Committee had worked for years to bring Expo 2023 to the state. The theme of its bid was “Healthy People, Healthy Planet,” with a focus on innovations in health care.
The final presentation to the BIE delegates, which represented almost 130 nations, was given by a team that included Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minneapolis.
“We had a great presentation, but came up short,” Omar tweeted afterward.
Bloomington City Manager Jamie Verbrugge, also in Paris, tweeted out a statement of support for the Buenos Aires bid.
“Congratulations to our friends at @Expo2023Arg and good luck welcoming the world in 2023!” he wrote. “Proud of our @Expo_2023 team for their hard work to show the world the best Minnesota and @bloomington_mn had to offer.”
Gov. Mark Dayton, in a statement, called the news “disappointing” but said it didn’t “diminish the phenomenal work that has been done these last two years” by the bid committee.
Winning the World’s Fair hasn’t always been a blessing for the host.
The New Orleans fair in 1984 recorded low attendance numbers and rising costsand was forced to declare bankruptcy during its run. Chicago, which had been selected to host the fair in 1992, canceled following New Orleans’ experience.
Staff writer Nicole Norfleet contributed to this story.