Mountain View Voice

News - February 11, 2011

Report touts World Expo's economic benefits

by Daniel DeBolt

If the Bay Area is successful in bringing the World Expo to Moffett Field in 2020, it would inject $5.6 billion into the economy of the Peninsula and South Bay — along with 25 million visitors.

That's the conclusion of the economic impact report commissioned by the Bay Area Council, which describes Expos as "the Olympic Games of the economic, scientific and industrial world." If the U.S. bid is successful, it could provide 42,000 full-time jobs in and around Mountain View for a year, while providing $440 million in tax revenue for state and local governments, according to the report.

"It's a great chance for Silicon Valley and the Bay Area as a whole to take center stage," said Jim Wunderman, president of the Bay Area Council. "This is our chance to shine and to pull this together. It will be a great moment for our region."

The six-month event would likely leave behind major improvements to the Mountain View-Moffett area, including a new landmark and parks, and its Expo Village would jump-start the development of the Silicon Valley University slated for NASA Ames Research Center. It could also spur the construction of a Peninsula high-speed train line and a hovercraft or ferry terminal on Moffett's Bay front. Moffett's large hangars are likely to be restored, as they would become exhibition halls during the event, which would temporarily cover the airfield, the report said.

"Going back to the 1889 World's Fair in Paris, they are still making money off the Eiffel tower," said World's Fair historian Urso Chappell. "There are some serious economic benefits."

The report's estimate of 25 million visitors "certainly seems doable" Chappell said. He said the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai brought in a world-record 73 million visitors, while the 2000 and 2005 Expos attracted about 20 million.

The event would be a "diplomatic opportunity" and an "economic windfall" for the region, Wunderman said in a statement. His group represents 275 of the Bay Area's largest businesses, such as Google and Chevron, and is backing the event.

The report says the Expo would bring 8.3 million non-local visitors from around the world to the area, boosting business for local shops, restaurants and hotels. Hotels would have "insufficient space" in the Peninsula's three counties, causing spillover to other areas. "Restaurants in Mountain View, Sunnyvale and San Jose would particularly benefit from World Expo activity," the report says.

The theme that has emerged so far is "space, innovation and sustainability." The BAC's John Grubb said those involved so far, including Google and the NASA officials who control Moffett, hope for the most sustainable World Expo ever. And while there may be concerns about the wetland wildlife and rare burrowing owls at Moffett, "the goal would actually be to improve the environment around Moffett field significantly," Wunderman said.

Chappell said such sensitivity would not be unusual given the environmental restoration work done at previous Expo sites, including Aichi, Japan. Expos have become more about "concepts and ideas," such as urbanism and environmentalism, "than things," he said.

Silicon Valley businesses are likely to put together large pavilions for the event, along with displays from companies and nations from around the world.

Wunderman said it would likely cost $1 billion to put on the event, which could be raised from various sources, including private investors and government grants.

"Assuming we got a modest 25 million visitors, that would probably generate north of a billion just by itself," Wunderman said, figuring a $40 ticket price. "That's without parking, sponsorships, things like that. It appears on first glance that it's a pretty good business proposition."

Some previous Expos have turned a big profit, others a deficit. "The 2010 Shanghai World Expo reportedly made $8-10 billion, and the 2005 World Expo in Aichi netted Japan a $122 million profit, yet the 2000 Expo in Hanover had a deficit of $600 million," the report said.

A feasibility study later this year will more closely examine the potential financing of the event.

Whether the U.S. will be chosen by the international representatives of the Bureau of International Expositions to host the 2020 World Expo remains uncertain, as Thailand and Turkey both have serious bids in the works, Chappell said. Talks are underway with backers of Expo bids in Houston and Minneapolis to get behind the Silicon Valley bid for the U.S.

"Everyone knows Silicon Valley," Chappell said. "There might be a pent-up interest in the area." A World Expo could permanently change the fact that "it's an area where there is no there there, for tourists — a place to draw people."

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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