In preparation for determining the U.S. candidate city, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) reached out to 35 U.S. cities in early 2013 to inquire as to which ones would like to be considered as the U.S. city alongside several international cities. Then-Minneapolis-Mayor Rybak received the letter and in consultation with many people and entities in our community, including Meet Minneapolis, ultimately decided to alert the USOC that Minneapolis would not submit a bid.
Many of my other counterparts from across the country shared similar stories of choosing to forego this opportunity. Many of us were influenced by the fact that both New York City and Chicago had high hopes for being selected as host cities for the 2016 and 2020 games respectively, but both cities were ultimately passed over for Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo. Chicago is reported to have invested nearly $100 million in its bid, which was then eliminated in the first round.
There were at least two local efforts that advocated for a Minneapolis Olympics. Both groups did a significant amount of due diligence but in the end, were not able to garner the massive local support and excitement required to embark upon such a journey. In my view, the key missing link was that there was not a champion who could inspire confidence in overcoming what may seem like insurmountable odds in approaching such a lofty goal.
So while we are not in the mix for an Olympics bid, we are still very much in the hunt for a World’s Fair. A couple of weeks ago, we shared responses to several questions from the Expo 2023 Minnesota CEO and former Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie. As part of our planning efforts, I was a part of his most recent expedition to Milan, Italy, site of the Expo Milano 2015. Mark is the champion for the effort here, and to augment his perspective as a person who is laser-focused on securing the event, I thought I would share some of my anecdotal and informal observations.
Our group had the opportunity to meet with Piero Galli, the general manager of Expo Milano. He shared that since he has been on board as the leader of the event, he has had to work with four different Italian Prime Ministers. In spite of the political turmoil he was upbeat and felt as though the event was exceeding expectations.
He said that Expo Milano’s physical footprint was designed to accommodate as many as 250,000 visitors a day over the 1.1 million square meter area. If my math is right, that equates to about 270 acres. Our state fairgrounds is about 320 acres by comparison. Although the average number of visitors a day is less than that, at 140,000 a day so far, that pace will still lead to nearly 25 million total visitors by the end of October.
Galli stressed that the Expo was focused on the visitor experience and that visitors were looking for content and not propaganda. He seemed satisfied that this goal was being largely met. From a security perspective, Galli said that each of the 140 participating countries would have a day when their head of state or designee would be the featured dignitary for a day of the Expo. So, as many as 140 of the 180 days of the Expo would have special security requirements. On one of the days we visited, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended the Expo and we caught a glimpse of what the organizers would have to deal with nearly daily. From my perspective the security was appropriately visible without being oppressive.
The USA Pavilion was not nearly as lavish as some of those of other countries but was nonetheless the most visited of the 140+ exhibits. The USA Pavilion is on pace to attract almost one-third of all Expo visitors over the six month run.
Galli also said that Milan was selected before the economic downturn, and the Expo’s ability to secure sponsors was diminished as a result. He reported that many hotels overpriced their rooms in anticipation of overwhelming demand but many of them were disappointed in the end. Airbnb did well, he said. Chalk up another one for the sharing economy. In general, a number of businesses felt that they didn’t receive the business boost that they had anticipated or had been promised.
Obviously the economics of this kind of undertaking are extremely complex, and for the moment, I’m not sure what this all means other than I remain very optimistic about Expo 2023 Minnesota. With Ritchie at the helm of the bid effort, we can take all of the technical lessons learned from studying Expo Milano as well as the other major events we have either attracted or pursued and blend it with his endless enthusiasm and swing for the fences. I like our chances.