Archive Hosted by the AFL-CIO

Discussion: First a Super Bowl, Then a World’s Fair!

July 22, 2014 By John Van Hecke, Publisher

From the MLB All-Star game to a youth soccer tournament to a dog show, public events, performances and gatherings are both entertainment and economic development. What is the public’s return on investment?

Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie proposes that Minnesota host a World’s Fair, using the multi-month event to achieve transformative community and economic development.

Planned correctly, advocates argue, a Minnesota World’s Fair Expo could generate $10-15 billion in increased tourism spending alone.

If we’re willing to support a Super Bowl, why not a cultural-business-entertainment event built to last six months rather than six days?

This conversation is still open for you to jump in. Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie joined us on Tuesday morning to answer questions and offer more details about a Worlds fair in MN. Still have comments? Add them in!


Post your comments or questions in the box below, scroll down to see the ongoing conversation, and use "refresh" to see new comments.

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  • Rachel says:

    July 22, 2014 at 6:14 am

    Good morning all! The live part of our discussion will start around 8 am. Before then, we invite you to submit questions, or add some initial thoughts on large-scale events in Minnesota.

  • Tim Gieseke says:

    July 22, 2014 at 7:48 am

    Sure, it can be a fun discussion, but quite a challenge to really understand the extent of the investment at the on-set.  Always difficult to develop a good strategy when these “Christmas-type” events are planned. 

    Strategy 1 - keep a level head and continually remind us of the intentions; short and long-term

  • Mark Ritchie says:

    July 22, 2014 at 7:57 am

    Good Morning Everyone - Thanks for joining this conversation.

  • Mark Ritchie says:

    July 22, 2014 at 8:05 am

    Thanks for joining us Tim! 

    There are two main kinds of World Fairs - or EXPOs as they are often called. Every five years there are six month long/large ones—in 2010 it was in Shanghai with 73 million people and next year it will be in Milan (with the theme of Food) with an estimated 40-50 visitors. In between there are shorter ones that are in the 10-15 million. We are working to host the shorter one in 2023 and it fits our region perfectly. The site is small by design - 60 acres maximum - and with good planning the key infrastructure need is excellent transit so that 100,000 people per day (or more) can get in an out with ease.  It is like hosting a SuperBowl each day and it is about what we get each day at the State Fair so we know how to do this pretty well.

    • geothermaljones says:

      July 22, 2014 at 8:22 am

      Arden Hills has plenty of space and the existing heavy rail line that would connect directly to the North Star line in Fridley or to downtown Target field.

  • Mark Ritchie says:

    July 22, 2014 at 8:07 am

    What is exciting is all the community support that has been generated = check out the website at

  • Geothermaljones says:

    July 22, 2014 at 8:08 am

    Let’s highlight the river and its history and future potential for our region.

  • Mark Ritchie says:

    July 22, 2014 at 8:11 am

    The US was host to many World Fairs over the past 50 years - including New York in 1964 (where I visited as a teenager) Seattle, Spokane, San Antonio, New Orleans, and Knoxville - but then we dropped out for a while. We are partners with   San Francisco and Houston who want to host the longer/larger Expos in the future through a national organization called EXPO USA.

  • Deb Balzer says:

    July 22, 2014 at 8:13 am

    What are some of the challenges of bringing the World’s Fair to Minnesota?

  • Mark Ritchie says:

    July 22, 2014 at 8:15 am

    Yes! We are know around the world for our lakes and rivers - especially the Mississippi - and of course it is what we all love as well. We are also really known globally for our innovative companies (think 3M, Medtronic, Stratasys) our civic-mindedness (we are the top in the nation, year after year, in voting/volunteerism/charitable contributions) our cultural institutions (Guthrie, MIA, Museum of Russian Art, Weisman, etc. ) and for our warm welcoming embrace of folks from all over the world.

    • mary treacy says:

      July 22, 2014 at 8:22 am

      How about our history of progressive thinking on many fronts, the role of early immigrants, global-thinking leaders of every political stripe—Stassen to HHH and more.

      • Mark Ritchie says:

        July 22, 2014 at 8:27 am

        Spot on!  Our leaders have been global minded and we have also been conscious of this heritage in how we have organized ourselves. For example, the Festival of Nations is 85 years old and there are over 80 nations/ethnic groups/peoples who are well-organized enough in our region to have booths and exhibits. We have institutions like the American Refugee Committee, Center for Victims of Torture, World Citizen, Minnesota International Center, International Institute of Minnesota that keep our welcoming spirit alive as well as make a concrete contribution to growing our international community and our international consciousness. We also have global companies (large and small) and many Sister City and other connections. Finn Fest, the national Finnish American festival is coming to MN in just a couple weeks - another sign of how we work to stay connected.

  • John Van Hecke says:

    July 22, 2014 at 8:20 am

    Citing the Super Bowl as an events reference gets everyone’s attention but I think that the Minnesota State Fair is a better example. Is it helpful to explain a World’s Fair bid in terms of the State Fair?

    • Mark Ritchie says:

      July 22, 2014 at 9:00 am

      Most World Fairs have a theme - like Milan (food) Yoseu (oceans) etc. so this is one big difference - we would have a central theme. Suggestions have been things that we are know for like water, food/ag, and health/wellness. It is a chance to highlight how we view and tackle these modern challenges and it is a global platform for both our own companies and non-profits and for everyone from around the planet.

      Another difference is that we are talking about a relatively small space - 61 acres - while the State Fair is much, much bigger.

      But what is common is that people love, love, love to come see what the future may bring - and to the extent that the State Fair has been a place to see the latest and to peer into the future (like the Eco Experience Building, machinery hill, etc.) World Fairs will create excitement especially among our children and youth about science and technology (STEM) - this is how I was first motivated to dive into science in my own life.

  • Mark Ritchie says:

    July 22, 2014 at 8:22 am

    The challenges are both normal and somewhat surprising -

    1. We need good support from our US State Department and we are working on that with the help of many Minnesotans who are active in the global arena.
    2. We need to prepare an excellent bid that will include information about our region, our theme, our site and why Minnesota is the right place to host in 2023. A lot of great data has been put together through the process of creating the winning bid for the SuperBowl and other efforts, like the communications research done by GreaterMSP, so we have a big head start on this.
    3. There will be a vote among the 168 countries who are part of the international governing body - it is treaty based so these are government representatives. It will come around Thanksgiving of 2016.
    4.So far we are the only region of the planet actively seeking to host in this timeframe - but we expect others who have been talking about this to step forward at some time.
    5. There are many good sites available in the Twin Cities so we have many to work with so this is much easier for us than for other areas that are more densely populated.

    • Deb Balzer says:

      July 22, 2014 at 8:27 am

      Thank you. How did the idea of Minnesota hosting the World’s Fair come about?

      • Mark Ritchie says:

        July 22, 2014 at 8:31 am

        I do not know all of the different threads but I first heard about the possibility from Steve Heckler who had been the organizer of the Festival of Nations (along with the Twin Cities Jazz Fest and other wonderful community events) who had connected with folks in Houston and San Francisco who shared his view that we should work to bring the World’s Fair back to the US - and Steve thought that 2022 or 2023 was the right time since no one else had spoken up for that time slot. I had very strong memories of the 1964 Fair in NYC - where we visited on a family camping trip from Iowa and was immediately impressed by how this fit Minnesota perfectly. We do not like to brag but we like to host and show folks how far we have come as a people. I was quickly convinced that we could make this happen if we put the combined strength of our community here in Minnesota and all those who love Minnesota like we do but who live in other parts of the world.

  • Kyle says:

    July 22, 2014 at 8:26 am

    Is there any historical background on why the US has not participated as much over the past 50 years?

    I work in IT as a Systems Administrator, and am really curious about what a world fair would be like here in MN. I’m also really up for an event that showcases innovations in technology. Have the world fairs changed recently, and what type of culture could we expect from a MN held expo?

    What can I do to help make this kind of thing actually happen? Whether it be the MN expo, or the super fair at some US city?

    • Mark Ritchie says:

      July 22, 2014 at 8:39 am

      Great question!  We were founding signatories of the international treaty that governs sanctioned EXPOs through the Bureau of International Expositions in the late 1920s - and we have hosted many World’s Fair,including many during the Great Depression. Two of these will be featured in Hollywood movies in the coming year - DiCaprio is producing and staring in The Devil in the White City about the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 (a best-seller for over a decade on the NYT list) and George Clooney will star in Tomorrow Land - a Disney production about the 1964 Fair in New York.

      But in 2001 Secretary of State Powell wrote a letter to the Bureau of International Exposition (BIE) saying we would no longer be paying dues so we effectively dropped out. We have continued to participate in all of the many EXPOs that have been held every couple years around the planet but we have not hosted in the US for 30 years. We are working with Secretary of State Kerry to return to the BIE and the legal documents to do this are under review by the legal department at the State Department right now and there are many people helping move this process along. We dis-engaged from the BIE around the same time that we dropped out of other international bodies - like the Food and Agriculture Organization, CODEX (global food safety agency) UNESCO etc but we have slowly but surely rejoined all of these and the BIE is the last one we still need to re-engage with.

  • Elliot Altbaum says:

    July 22, 2014 at 8:36 am

    There is no doubt that events like the All-Star Game, Superbowl, and any large event held at the convention center raises the national and international profile of the Minneapolis, St. Paul region. Their positive economic impact, however, has been debated. The World’s Fair is a different kind of event, so could you explain how the economic and cultural impacts would benefit residents of the region and the state? As a six month event, the events would clearly be longer term, what would those look like?

    • Mark Ritchie says:

      July 22, 2014 at 8:50 am

      This would be a three-month fair and it’s impact would be different in a number of significant ways.

      Most visitors who come to World’s Fairs come for extended stays (often a week) and attended every day and visit other attractions along the way. It would be 10-15 million visitors and 20-25% would come from overseas or a long-distance away and 75-80% would come from within a days drive. Alongside these visitors there will be a significant number of other conferences and conventions that will come to Minnesota before, during and after that will add to this tourism impact. The normal estimate is that 500,000 international tourist spend about $1 billion in the US so the roughly 3 million overseas visitors would spend about $6 billion in the US. The other 8-12 million visitors from nearby would also have a major impact of course.

      But the key thing is the event itself as a way to introduce Minnesota on a global platform. When I tell folks around the US or in other countries that we are making plans to host a World’s Fair they visibly change their stance and begin to ask much different kinds of questions about Minnesota. I recently did a series of visits with business and chamber of commerce groups in Finland and when I mentioned our plans they started to talk about how they could participate.

      In the preparation of our bid we have a chance to think into the future and develop a region-wide vision that can help us work together - and millions of people around the world will come to know us through the bid process itself.

      And if we are fortunate enough to be chosen we will have a chance to show just how innovative, creative, and welcoming we are as a place—and the long-term implications for our colleges and universities, our companies, our cultural institutions, our tourism, etc. can be huge. And it might make it easier to recruit the kind of global talent we want for our companies, our communities - and our sports teams!!

  • Maianne Preble says:

    July 22, 2014 at 8:49 am

    If we did such an event, my concern would be how the site continues to function AFTER it is complete. There are lots of reports on how World Cup/Olympic sites spent piles of money, remove residents from homes, etc only to have the site largely abandoned after the event. I would hate to see us build something for a shortterm gain in tourist $.

    • Mark Ritchie says:

      July 22, 2014 at 8:55 am

      Yes, this has to be thought about up front. But since this is limited to only 25 hectares (61 acres) there are many options. Spokane knew they wanted a park in the middle of their downtown as a way to literally save their city and they did it. Seattle wanted to anchor a revitalization of a part of the city with the Space Needle and they did that. Vancouver had a whole team with this assignment and a former city planner for St. Paul (who is here in Minnesota and helping us with ideas on this) was on the team that made the plans that turned the fair site into a hub for the city.  We are thinking about other things like the need for high-speed connections to other Minnesota cities - like Rochester, Duluth, St. Cloud, Fargo/Moorhead, etc. and how this World’s Fair could be a catalyst for getting some of this started and completed in time.

      • Charlie says:

        July 22, 2014 at 9:12 am

        As an aside, Jim Lynch wrote a very good novel called TRUTH LIKE THE SUN that was about the Seattle World’s Fair, how it used the corruption of the city to create a massive redevelopment that helped weaken the grip of corruption. An interesting read.

        We have a clean reputation here, but there’s a significant resistance to big events or public projects that cost the taxpayers and don’t deliver much new economic development long term.

        How would a world expo be different?

  • Maianne Preble says:

    July 22, 2014 at 8:53 am

    Finding an existing site that could accommodate traffic and/or long term use for a Worlds Fair site would help to cement us as a leader in sustainability and community integration with world event sites

    • Nick Stumo-Langer says:

      July 22, 2014 at 9:14 am

      The thing that I find most interesting about finding a long-term use for any large event site is the potential to integrate that site into the region’s conscience. The Munich Olympics site in Munich is a community park that hosts concerts, gatherings, sporting events and turns into a centralized marketplace on certain days. This could also feed into a long-term protected sustainability site too, the possibilities are (nearly) endless from how where I see them

    • Mark Ritchie says:

      July 22, 2014 at 9:20 am

      Amen - and of course making sure that the site connects easily with other parts of the region and state is crucial - this is an important part of the conversation. These great ideas being offered on this chat are exactly why we are taking a crowd sourcing approach to this planning process.  In early August we will launch a crowd-funding and crowd sourcing campaign with the very excellent assistance of Fallon Advertising and we will have an amazing exhibit at the State Fair (first floor of the Grandstand) in partnership with the 3M Innovation Center and the U of MN’s College of Design and Carlson School of Management that will have a lot of crowd sourcing opportunities. We think of this as a “white board” opportunity to get all the great ideas gathered up so we can make the most informed and inspired decisions.

      • Maianne Preble says:

        July 22, 2014 at 9:35 am

        How can an individual become more actively involved with the planning process? 

        If it matters, I have a degree (and soon another) in Historic Preservation with a focus on community revitalization and economic redevelopment. I’d love to learn more about our plans and become part if this.

  • Darlene Coffman says:

    July 22, 2014 at 9:00 am

    What kind of economic development?  I admire Mark Ritchie but his vision for a world’s fair needs to be clearly defined—and maybe he is doing that already.  I just want to say that we do not need the corporatocracy descending like pigs to the trough with its ideas for the future.  We wouldn’t be in the situation we are in if capitalism had not disregarded the common good of living things.  And no, it cannot be ‘tweaked’ a little.  It has become a ravenous monster. 

    Is this world fair about what the human community can do to save life on the planet by creating a different way of living on the Earth?  Are the goals of the world’s fair about conservation, zero carbon imprint, sustainability, local and regional independence yet with growing awareness of our oneness with greater world over ‘my’ country? 

    Tourism?  How can millions come to the state without having a great negative impact on air pollution, water and other resource depletion, since the Twin Cities isn’t yet the model of the city of the future—although it is trying to move that way.

    • Mark Ritchie says:

      July 22, 2014 at 9:24 am

      Great questions - it does take real effort to live on the planet in ways that make the future bright and sustainable for our kids. But my experience is that Minnesotans take this challenge pretty seriously and that we have a lot to share and a lot to learn in the whole arena that we sometimes call resilience and sustainability. My life experience of visiting other people in their home countries tells me that global interaction is a key part of finding a way of living together as peacefully as humans can be.

    • Robert Nepper says:

      July 23, 2014 at 6:50 am

      The World’s Fair of 1893 introduced the world to the electric light bulb and the concept of residential electricity. Are you willing to give up that precious electricity you have in your home?

      You could go back to kerosene lamps (and the outhouse) like I had all during my elementary school years and well into high school. I lived “off the grid’ for my first 16 years and have no desire to get back off it—do you?

      I am EXTREMELY thankful for the support of those modern-day “robber barons” who have supplied us with dependable natural gas and electricity all during the past brutal winter! Where would you turn if either of those critical sources of energy were cut off?  Are you ready to go back to kerosene and coal?

      The current trend of environmental madness will probably continue until avid supporters demand that we rip up all of our blacktop streets, highways and parking lots and search for a safe place to dispose of this “hazardous” material! We can then, once again, waddle in the mud and ruts and choke on the dust of those “all natural” unpaved streets, roads and highways!

  • Jill says:

    July 22, 2014 at 9:01 am

    I’ve never attended a World’s Fair but I’m aware that it is often a showcase for new innovations, often things that might seem futuristic at the time. What might you imagine would be showcased here in Minnesota? We have certainly been a leader in the areas of medical technology, agriculture and food processing, etc. Might there be other areas that would stand out?

    • Mark Ritchie says:

      July 22, 2014 at 9:26 am

      Innovation is central to who we are as a people so I hope we can find many ways to highlight this. For example, I sit on the board of LifeSource that helps arrange organ donations and transplants. Our doctors and researchers here in Minnesota virtually invented the science that makes transplants possible - and this is a kind of innovation that has helped so many millions across the planet!

  • Tim Morse says:

    July 22, 2014 at 9:13 am

    I think that the notion of hosting every exhibition in a single site shouldn’t be a requirement.  Some larger-scale exhibitions just can’t be staged.  Think of the Olympic Games: many events at many facilities.  Most out-of-town visitors will stay for more than one day, and can visit multiple events over the span of their stay.

    • Elliot Altbaum says:

      July 22, 2014 at 9:22 am

      I would agree with that. I would rather see multiple smaller sites in dense areas that can be easily served by transit than one large site in a sprawling area that needs huge public investment in order to be a successful place during and after the fair.

    • Mark Ritchie says:

      July 22, 2014 at 9:28 am

      Some people have proposed going for the longer/larger EXPO to be able to do more things on the site. I think we can be creative within the rules but the rules are set by the 168 member countries so that is key guide in this process.

    • geothermaljones says:

      July 22, 2014 at 10:29 am

      I agree with a ribbon of smaller sites with a single larger anchor site.
      Up and down the river, Boom Island, Bohemian flats, Harriet Island, etc…
      The existing Saints stadium site and the adjacent state fair parking lots are all accessible easily from the existing U of M intercampus lines.

  • Mark Ritchie says:

    July 22, 2014 at 9:32 am

    Thank so much to MN 2020 and to all who participated—for more info check out and sign up on any or all of our social media channels to participate. We host a monthly speaker series and the next one will be a sneak preview of our upcoming State Fair exhibit and crowd-funding campaign—9-11 AM at HGA Architects in Minneapolis. I look forward to being back on again soon.

  • Arty Dorman says:

    July 22, 2014 at 10:55 am

    I love the idea.  I grew up near NYC, and visited the 1964-65 New York Worlds Fair several times, loved every minute.  The intro to this discussion describes this as a “cultural-business-entertainment event”, but I would hope we add “educational” to that description.

    Two years ago a saw an exhibit at the Nelson Museum of Art in Kansas City on Worlds Fairs as incubators of arts and new ideas, which was very enlightening.  I don’t know if the exhibit is still touring museums, would be great to bring it to the Twin Cities to further enlighten people who have not had the experiences to see how great these events can be.

    I love the Rivers and Lakes theme, though we could also make a strong case for Health Service and Medical Technology as a theme too.

  • Charlie Zea says:

    July 22, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    I think alternative energy would be a good theme.  I understand the United States is lagging way behind on this issue.  A World Fair might be what we need to get us moving on this issue.

  • Brandan Fiedler says:

    July 22, 2014 at 4:07 pm

    How about a Summer Olympic Games in Minnesota?

  • Peter Molenaar says:

    July 22, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    Dear Mark:

    The proposal won’t save the world economy or stop global warming, but I say, nonetheless, go for it.

    Peter Molenaar

  • Alan Weinblatt says:

    July 29, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    As a long term student of the Century of Progress Worlds Fair held in Chicago in 1933-34 I would live to participate in planning one for Minnesota. Who will be the point person?