2017 Expo, or Expon’t?

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sunsphereYesterday, amidst much fanfare and hoopla and speeches about “the future of the city,” “legacy projects” and “other vagueries,” the City of Edmonton and the University of Alberta jointly announced that they have officially submitted their Expo 2017 bid to Heritage Canada. Now, according to Tony Franceschini, chair of the Expo bid committee, it’s “time to spread the word, and grow the dream.”

When I think of Expo, I think of that episode of the Simpsons where Bart, Nelson, Milhouse and Martin manage to rent themselves a car in order to drive down to the World’s Fair in Knoxville Tennessee (“Where Tennesseein’ is Tennebelievin’!”) just so they can see the great Sunsphere… which is still there, despite the fact that the 1982 World’s Fair took place a full 14 years prior. By the time the errant road-trippers arrive, the Sunsphere is filled only with wigs. Thousands and thousands of wigs.

Edmonton’s own Sunsphere

And you have to wonder at a $2.3 billion price tag what Edmontonians are getting for their money. There’s no conceivable way — even with the most optimistic of attendance estimates — that the city will recoup this money from visitors dumping cash into the local economy. Even the city’s own estimates assume we’ll see 1.9 million unique visitors over the 3-month expo. Not that impressive

Boosters will tell you this will be a great party for the city. The world will be watching. And I really, earnestly hope that that’s the case. Because when it came to the more than $3 million loser we call the Indy, the world was supposed to be watching as well. And the taxpayer still took a bath on that event — every year since its inception.

Boosters also tout the legacy the Expo will leave in its wake: beautiful new green buildings on South Campus, affordable housing, and a fancy new bridge to replace the Walterdale. And this is all well and good. But does the cost justify these new bits of skyline? Given the significant cost overruns on Vancouver Games construction projects, I’m not hopeful that Edmonton will somehow manage to keep these things on budget — just look at the costly debacle at 23rd Ave and Calgary Trail to see how good the City is at managing large-scale capital projects.

That’s it: back to Winnipeg!

I’ve seen some good points brought up about this on Twitter — from people who appear to be both for and against Edmonton hosting this multi-billion-dollar 3-month party:

  • ec90: “I think #yeg will really benefit if we host #EXPO2017 though I just really hate all the naysayers thinking it’s a waste of money”
  • agrabia: “Good to know I can officially start praying we don’t get #Expo2017. It would be #yeg’s luckiest miss since Michael Nylander.”
  • Paulatics: “‘Harmony of Energy and our Future Planet’ — who makes up these goony slogans? Are they generated randomly? Argh”
  • evolvingblue: “I have to say, I was at Expo86 in Vancouver, and the idea of having Expo2017 in #YEG thrills me.”
  • davidamaclean: “Looking a negotiating a sabbatical so I can get the heck out of #yeg during the summmer of #expo2017”
  • runsamok: “#expo2017 for #yeg looks like $2b spent by the same ppl who got us a $260m interchange. Too much $ for what we get. Uninspired. Unimpressed”

Don’t Panic

I don’t think the time is ripe for panic yet. We’ve submitted a bid, we haven’t won the right to host Expo 2017. And while significant dollars have gone into bidding on the whole thing, I tend to agree with… well, everyone. It’s not likely massive legacy projects will be undertaken without a reason like Expo 2017… AND the price tag is way too high, especially given that we don’t actually know what we’re getting for $2.3 billion.

We touched on the Expo topic in our last show (which you can listen to here), and I’m still not sure what I think. I’ll reserve judgment (though I’m leaning toward “This costs way too much for the actual value of it”) and let the pundits take care of the, uh, punditry.

Read more!

Smarter more eloquent people than I have mused on the subject. I suggest you read their takes:

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6 Responses to “2017 Expo, or Expon’t?”

  1. Jeff
    December 1, 2009 at 11:04 am #

    I linked to an recap of that Simpsons episode in my editorial. I’m glad it’s also what everyone else thinks of.

    How many wigs will we be able to fit on the water taxi?

    More seriously, while I won’t even listen to the “This will put us on the world map” argument, I am opening my ears to what you (and others) are saying about the fact new buildings, bridges, transit and other infrastructure WON’T get built without the Expo. That might be a valid point.

    Though, if you flip that around it sounds like the Expo is so frivolous that politicians have to throw in all that infrastructure to sell the party.

    • bingofuel
      December 1, 2009 at 11:08 am #

      Actually, I’m probably the only person in Edmonton who thinks water taxis are a good idea… and the people who strawman it and say “Will they run in the winter? duh!” are being totally unreasonable.

      Water taxis as part of the stuff being built in Louise McKinney Park would be awesome, and I think they’d see a lot of use… The River Valley Alliance has been pushing for these for years. They seem to be everyone’s favourite “easy mark” in the Expo debate, tho.

    • bingofuel
      December 1, 2009 at 11:23 am #

      To your other points, Jeff, I think the sad reality might be that a lot of this stuff won’t get built unless we host a huge event like this. The questions are:

      Are these buildings needed?

      What do they cost on an individual basis?

      Seriously — $2.3 BILLION?

  2. Derjis
    December 1, 2009 at 5:38 pm #


  3. Derjis
    December 1, 2009 at 5:39 pm #

    Are you happy now?!? I’ve become a parody of myself!!! You guys are, like, ‘dance, fool!’, firing your six shooters at my feet (and by ‘dance’, i mean ‘post in my comments section).

  4. Jeff
    December 2, 2009 at 10:50 am #

    Derjis, you’re a smart guy, I just wanted you to share the smarts with other people.

    p.s. Dance!