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How ’Bout a World’s Fair?

Mark Ritchie wants to bring one to the Twin Cities in 2023. He’ll need more than luck.

How ’Bout a World’s Fair?

The World’s Fair used to be a big deal. It’s where Chicago put up a Ferris wheel (1893), New York broadcast television (1939) and Seattle built a needle into space (1962). Secretary of State Mark Ritchie wants the state to have one that leaves a lasting legacy in 2023.

Part of his pitch is that good things will happen just by committing to the effort.

“Take San Antonio. It developed the Riverwalk for it, and today that’s a main tourist attraction,” he says. “We estimate that 10 [million] to 15 million people would visit Minnesota, and it would generate $4 billion to $6 billion in tourism spending.”

To get started Ritchie figured he’d try crowdfunding to finance an official bid. He’d heard ad agency Fallon was offering help to organizations through its Starter Kit program. I didn’t take long before a campaign appeared, complete with video. The ask was $200,000. The campaign ended in mid-September. It raised $13,313.

Ritchie is undeterred. His view is that the campaign did much to spread awareness, but fell short on money because it didn’t have an attention-grabbing name and handle. “Campaigns with outrageous names tend to bring a fabulous response,” he says. Fallon declined to comment.

Ritchie’s challenge is that the World’s Fair just doesn’t have the same cachet as it did generations ago. “I think many Americans don’t even know they exist,” says Robert Rydell, a historian at Montana State University and author of All the World’s a Fair.

The last U.S. World’s Fair took place in 1984 in New Orleans, but not enough people went, and it ended up losing $100 million. Successful ones attract millions of tourists.

The key, Rydell says, is a magnetic theme, “like Nagoya did in 2005 around sustainability.” He calls that fair “vital and profitable.”

Ritchie is considering leveraging state assets such the Mayo Clinic and UnitedHealth Group. “The theme,” he says, could be ‘Healthy People, Healthy Planet,’ ” something like that.”

Despite the crowdfunding flop, Ritchie says the effort will go on. “We’ll have a bid to submit in 2015.”

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