Mark Ritchie says congressional failure won't handicap Minnesota's hopes for 2027 Expo
By Matt McKinney Star Tribune
DECEMBER 17, 2019 — 8:29PM
A bid to host the World's Fair in Bloomington eight years from now is still alive, despite the failure of a critical step in Congress this week, Mark Ritchie said Tuesday. Ritchie, the former Minnesota secretary of state who is spearheading the state's efforts to win a World's Fair, said he and others had hoped to see legislation allowing the U.S. State Department to spend federal dollars on a U.S. pavilion at the 2020 World Expo in Dubai. The pavilion was seen as a necessary step for the Minnesota host committee to pursue its 2027 bid. The House Committee on Appropriations didn't include the measure in its end-of-year appropriations bill, despite the backing of Minnesota's entire congressional delegation and the Trump administration. But it's still possible to move ahead with Minnesota's plan, Ritchie said, and funding for a pavilion could come about through another channel. "It would have been great simply to have this fixed with one action of Congress, but Washington is very complicated and everything takes a very long time," he said. The funding snag isn't specific to next year's Expo. It goes back to a federal law from the late 1990s that prohibits taxpayer dollars from being spent to build a U.S. pavilion at a World Expo. Since then U.S. participation has been sporadic and dependent on private donations. The State Department said it would cost $60 million to build the pavilion. World Expos are more commonly known in the United States as World's Fairs. The last World's Fair in the U.S. was in New Orleans in 1984. A decade later, Congress passed the law prohibiting the spending of federal dollars for a U.S. pavilion. The Dubai expo will run from October 2020 to April 2021. Soon after that, the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) will decide on a 2027 site. Ritchie said local supporters will continue to lobby for Bloomington, and that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross soon will name Minnesota as the official U.S. bid site for the 2027 Expo. Everyone in Minnesota's congressional delegation supports the Bloomington bid, and several members have worked on pieces of it. U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, a Republican, sponsored a bill signed by President Donald Trump in 2017 allowing the U.S. to rejoin the BIE, a step also seen as necessary to a U.S. host bid. The House of Representatives in late October unanimously passed a bill written by Democratic U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips that lifted the prohibition on federal funding. Still, no one could get the needed $60 million appropriation included in a one-month budget extension signed by President Donald Trump. Minnesota's planned theme for the 2027 Expo is "Healthy People, Healthy Planet," with a focus on health and wellness that would tie into the state's prolific medical technology and health care sectors. The Minnesota bid envisions a three-month expo beginning on Mother's Day 2027. An analysis for the host committee by Maryland-based Rockport Analytics projected about 13 million visitors over three months, or about 140,000 people per day, with 90% coming from outside the Twin Cities. The study predicted $2 billion in economic value for the region, along with 17,000 full- and part-time jobs. Staff writer Patrick Condon contributed to this report.