Yesterday, 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”
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.
Smarter more eloquent people than I have mused on the subject. I suggest you read their takes:
- Mack Male – Edmonton Launches Bid for 2017 Expo
- The Edmontonian – No parties while we’re away
- Paula Simons, the Edmonton Journal – Tough to get excited over Expo 2017 without hard numbers
- Canadian Taxpayers Federation – An Expo-nential Waste of Money