The world’s fair, that science and technology extravaganza that introduced wonders ranging from the Ferris wheel to videoconferencing, could land in Minnesota if a group of civic leaders have their way.
The new Minnesota World’s Fair Bid Committee announced Friday that it is preparing a bid for the 2023 fair, called Expo 2023, and that it has already raised nearly three-quarters of the $1.5 million needed to do it.
The group is now scouting for 60-acre parcels of land that could accommodate an enormous pavilion — and other structures — to house exhibits by 100 countries and 12 million visitors. If Minnesota nabs the bid, it would be the first time in 30 years that a fair has landed in the United States.
“The prospect of having this happen in our community is overwhelming to me,” said Marilyn Carlson Nelson, former CEO of Carlson companies who is a co-chair of the committee.
Expo 2023 would join the other mega events headed to Minnesota, such as the 2018 Super Bowl and the 2019 Final Four basketball championships, said Carlson, who co-chaired the committee that successfully won the Super Bowl bid for the state. “We can build on that,” she said. “And it will help us collaborate with others around the world to make this a healthy planet.”
The United States hasn’t hosted a world’s fair since the New Orleans fair of 1984. In the late 1990s, the U.S. government stopped paying its dues to the Paris-based Bureau of International Expositions, which oversees the fairs, said Mark Ritchie, the former Minnesota secretary of state who has been spearheading the bid. By 2001, the U.S. government had withdrawn from the organization.
It was a time when the federal government was withdrawing from a number of international institutions, including UNESCO and UNICEF, he said. The prospects of an American world’s fair were not good until about 2008, when a Houston group began organizing to get the United States back in the business.
“Now there’s a whole national organization called Expo USA to help not just Minnesota but other cities that want to host expos,” Ritchie said.
The theme of Minnesota’s bid will be health and wellness, which will let the state put the spotlight on its medical technology industries, water conservation efforts, bike trail systems and more.
Lois Quam, co chair of the bid committee, said she will be an ambassador for the project in Washington D.C. The former UnitedHealth Group executive had directed the Global Health Initiative at the U.S. State Department, reporting to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She now is the chief operating officer of the Nature Conservancy.
Quam said Minnesota’s world’s fair bid has drawn significant interest at the State Department. Minnesota has a reputation in the nation’s capital for being dependable, intelligent and able to finish a job, she said.
The state also has impressive connections.
“There is a hugely influential community of Minnesotans in Washington,” she said, noting at least three who worked in high positions in the State Department while she was there.
Also working in Minnesota’s favor is the competition — or lack thereof. There are two types of world’s fairs: the major ones that occur every five years, and smaller ones that occur in-between. So far, Minnesota is the only place in the world making a bid for the 2023 smaller fair, said Ritchie.
In addition, the bid has drawn bipartisan support, its leaders said.
Minnesota’s bid can move forward in two ways. It can convince the federal government to rejoin the bureau, which costs about $30,000 in dues a year. Or it can bid as a nonmember, which would be more expensive and require a higher majority of votes from bureau members, Ritchie said.
“We’re prepared either way,” he said.
The bid will be submitted in November and reviewed by the State Department. The department is responsible for presenting the bid to the Bureau of International Expositions, which is expected to decide at its June 2016 meeting. A delegation from Minnesota will attend.
The project will be a public-private partnership, with no demands for government funding, organizers said. Private developers would be responsible for the pavilion and the site, which could later be adapted for other uses, including conference facilities and trade shows.
While attracting tourist dollars is an important goal for the project, the more important result of hosting a world’s fair will be putting Minnesota on the map “for the hearts and minds of talented and innovative leaders’’ around the globe, said Carlson Nelson.
“Today marked the beginning of the serious work of getting the bid presented and accepted,’’ said Ritchie. “We now have a legal structure in place. And two very senior leaders have said they would be the drivers and the voice for this effort.’’
Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511