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Political Notebook: Minnesota competing to host '23 World's Fair

An effort to bring the World’s Fair to Minnesota in 2023 has taken a major step forward.

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An effort to bring the World's Fair to Minnesota in 2023 has taken a major step forward.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Commerce submitted a letter of candidacy to the Paris-based Bureau of International Expositions announcing Minnesota's plans to bid for the fair. That's no small feat. Before the letter could be sent, it had to win the approval of President Obama.

Minnesota will be competing with three others to host the event, according to Minnesota World's Fair Bidding Committee President and CEO Mark Ritchie. Also vying for the fair are Lodz, Poland; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The three-month fair would attract an estimated 12 million visitors and generate an estimated $4 billion in tourism and hospitality spending. Ritchie said all of that attention would also help Minnesota's economy in the long run.

"It does have the long-term effect of generating a lot of attention and publicity, which basically results in Minnesota's ability to increase our attractiveness for talent, for leadership for companies and a lot of business deals take place at the fair," said Ritchie, former Minnesota Secretary of State.

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Mayo's long history with world fairs

While the fair would be located at a site in the Twin Cities, the plan is to also help direct tourists to other parts of the state, including Rochester. Ritchie said the Med City is especially important, considering the theme of Minnesota's proposed World's Fair: "Wellness and Well Being for All: Healthy People, Healthy Planet."

In fact, Ritchie said Mayo Clinic has a long history of being involved in the World's Fairs. The clinic had exhibits at both the 1933 World's Fair in Chicago and the 1939 World's Fair in San Francisco. That history is alive and well in the Barbara Woodward Lips Patient Education Center in Rochester, where the Transparent Man is on display. The life-size, see-through statute was built in Germany and displayed at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair in the clinic's booth, according to Mayo Clinic's website .

Ritchie said he believes Mayo Clinic's deep involvement in past World's Fairs helps give Minnesota's application a boost. The state's application to host the fair also mentions Mayo Clinic several times, including sharing the famed tale of the clinic's founding by the Sisters of St. Francis and Dr. William Worrall Mayo and his sons after a devastating tornado struck Rochester in 1883.

"This is a pioneering Minnesota story, but in many ways, a typical Minnesota story of resilience. We know that many things, including nature, can be devastating and we come together whenever there is an emergency. But we also believe that we need to be thinking ahead, to be strategic, to prepare for the challenges we most likely will face, and to find cooperative solutions for our common good," the application states.

Ritchie said he has been working closely with Destination Medical Center leaders on plans for the World's Fair. In addition, retired Mayo Clinic physician and University of Minnesota Regent Patricia Simmons has been playing an important role. She serves on the World's Fair Bidding Committee and has met with key officials with the Bureau of International Expositions.

Still lots of hurdles ahead

There are still plenty of hurdles remaining for Minnesota's bid. A team will visit Minnesota in late March or early April to decide whether Minnesota should be one of the finalists to host the World's Fair. In June, the finalists will be invited to make a presentation in Paris and the winner will be announced in November.

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Work also needs to be done closer to home. Congress needs to pass language instructing to the U.S. State Department to rejoin the Bureau of International Expositions. Private businesses have volunteered to pay the $40,000 in annual dues. The effort has had bipartisan support from members of Minnesota's congressional delegation.

The campaign to bring the World's Fair to Minnesota has been funded so far by private companies. Ritchie said he expects the fair itself would be paid for through ticket sales, vendors and corporate sponsorships. There would be some public safety costs associated with the event because it would attract a large number of people — including heads of state. As such, Ritchie said the group would seek out federal dollars to help cover those security costs.

"We have always planned this as a private sector initiative," Ritchie said. "That is how we've been pursuing the bid itself and that is how we'll organize the expo itself."

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