Edmonton schmoozing for future Expo bid
Showing the flag in Spain could pay dividends for potential shot at 2017 fair
The Edmonton Journal
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
CREDIT: Getty Images, File
Fireworks light up the sky during the opening ceremony of the Expo 2008 World Fair on June 13 in Zaragoza, Spain. Edmonton hopes to host the 2017 fair.
EDMONTON - The ancient Spanish city of Zaragoza is a couple thousand years older than Edmonton, and nearly half a world away.
But the host city for Expo 2008, and the would-be Canadian host city for Expo 2017, also boast some surprising similarities.
Zaragoza's population? Roughly 720,000. Edmonton's? About 750,000. Zaragoza ranks as Spain's fifth-largest city. Edmonton is Canada's sixth biggest.
Both cities are provincial capitals located far from the coast, with major river systems -- Zaragoza's River Ebro, Edmonton's North Saskatchewan River -- flowing through them.
Zaragoza isn't well known beyond Spain's borders, and it has long struggled for global recognition. Ditto for Edmonton, which gets a fraction of the media attention lavished on Calgary or Vancouver.
While larger Spanish cities have hosted or bid on major global events -- Barcelona had the 1992 Summer Olympic Games, Seville hosted Expo '92, and Madrid lost its bid to host the 2012 Summer Olympics -- Zaragoza hasn't stepped up to the plate.
The same goes for Edmonton. Despite the many high-profile events E-town has hosted over the years, Edmonton -- unlike Calgary, Vancouver or Montreal -- has never sought an event as big or as audacious in scope as an Expo, or an Olympic Games.
Like Zaragoza, Edmonton's day may finally be at hand, however. After touring Expo 2008 in July, city councillor Jane Batty has no doubts Edmonton is ready and able to take the next big step.
"I feel that Edmonton would definitely be able to host an Expo in 2017," she says.
"From what I saw there, I was quite thrilled knowing that we as a city could very successfully put on such a project."
On Wednesday, Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel will lead the third and final delegation of city and provincial officials on a five-day, fact-finding visit to Expo Zaragoza 2008, which wraps up Sunday.
Among other things, Mandel and his cohorts -- including Alberta Aboriginal Relations Minister Gene Zwozdesky, and Tory MLA Thomas Lukaszuk -- will meet with senior members of the Paris-based Bureau International des Expositions, which regulates and sanctions Expo events.
"It's really important for them to know who we are," says Mandel.
"We've had groups of people there through the summer, but this is the end of the fair and they have significant meetings then.
"So our role is to go and schmooze with these people, to tell them about the (proposed) Edmonton bid, and how excited we are about 2017, that it's Canada's 150th birthday, and that we're committed to doing this. To show that we're a player."
Zaragoza's three-month-long event, which ends Sunday after drawing between six million and seven million visitors, is focused on Water and Sustainable Development -- a key theme in a world beset by worries about dwindling fresh water supplies.
More than 100 countries are on hand, along with dozens of private companies and non-governmental groups.
The regional economic impact, and the infrastructure assets left behind for the citizens of Zaragoza to use, are substantial. And then there's the significant media exposure the event has generated.
Of course, Edmonton's proposed bid is still at an early stage. Once Mandel and his group returns and assesses its findings, a full report will be sent to city council in late October.
That's when the city must decide whether it's willing to go to Phase 2 -- preparing a detailed business case for Expo 2017, and competing against other Canadian cities, including Montreal,
Ottawa and Hamilton, to host the event. The deadline for such applications to the federal government is September 2009.
"We have to go back to council in October with all the information we've got, and ask for more money, and then we'll get the province to match it," says Mandel.
"And then we'll begin to develop a more exacting and a more complete vision of what we're going to do. For example, what kind of theme we're going to have, and where (Expo 2017) might be located, and what kind of facilities we might have."
Mandel is a realist. With a federal election underway, he says, it's impossible to know which party will be in power in two months, and how that may influence the choice the feds ultimately make about which Canadian city to support. But he says Edmonton has a great shot.
"We believe Edmonton will put forward, as we always do, an incredible bid that will be tough to challenge against because it will be that good. And when you have a province that is supportive of this, I think we've got a heck of a chance," he says.
Although some say the U of A's bid to host the 2015 World Student Games could nullify hopes of gaining federal support for Edmonton's proposed Expo bid, Mandel dismisses that as a red herring.
"So far we're the only city in Canada that's shown a strong interest in this. That doesn't mean someone isn't going to come out of the woodwork later on. But it's our 150th anniversary, and the West is the new emerging economic powerhouse in this country. To show off the West and what's happening here would be just good business for Canada."
© The Edmonton Journal 2008
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CanWest Interactive, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publications, Inc.. All rights reserved.