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U.S. Nearly in the Money for Expo

2009. 23 September

by James T. Areddy
( The U.S. isn’t promising the Eiffel Tower or Ferris Wheel for next year’s Shanghai World Expo 2010, but it is getting closer to saying it has money to pay for its pavilion.

For over a year, the U.S. has struggled to find donors willing to pony up the $61 million it is expected to cost to build and manage a World’s Fair pavilion. Unlike most countries that are dipping into government coffers, or being aided by China, the U.S. is subject to a law that requires private sector funding for U.S. participation in an Expo.

Now, roughly two-thirds of the money has been received – at least in the form of “firm commitments,” says José Villarreal, U.S. commissioner general for the Expo. “I can’t imagine that we’re not going to get to our number and we may even exceed it,” he told reporters Tuesday.

He broke ground on a pavilion in July and was back in Shanghai this week for a meeting of his fellow commissioners. He said there is now “momentum.”

Until Secretary of State Hillary Clinton threw her political weight behind the endeavor publicly in April, “it was very difficult to get the attention of corporate leaders as to the importance of the Expo,” said Mr. Villarreal. He cited various reasons why U.S. companies have been slow to sign on, from the economic recession to “Expo fatigue.”

A Texas lawyer, Mr. Villarreal said he personally got interested during a Thanksgiving trip last year to see his daughter in Shanghai, and resolved to volunteer. He recalled that a 1968 fair in San Antonio gave him a “passing familiarity with a World Fair.”

Shanghai’s Expo promises to be “a spectacle of epic proportions,” he said, and the U.S. pavilion will “tell the story of who America is obviously with a focus on the theme of the Expo.”

The pavilion has received commitments worth $5 million each from PepsiCo Inc. and Chevron Corp., plus smaller ones from other companies. (Coca Cola Co. will have its own pavilion) Organizers are still looking for cash and in-kind donations ranging from hotel rooms to bathroom fixtures.

Artist renderings of the pavilion suggest a two-winged building, with plants and waterfalls draping over the side. “I think ours is pretty dramatic,” said Mr. Villarreal.

Exactly what it will stand for is less clear.

Mr. Villarreal said Tuesday sub-themes include innovation, opportunity, health and diversity. In an interview published in the American Chamber of Commerce’s magazine “Insight” this month, he said “the four core themes of the Pavilion are sustainable development, health, teamwork and the Chinese community in America.” And when he signed to commit the U.S. to the project in July, organizers noted in a statement, “The US Pavilion will showcase sustainability, teamwork, health, and struggle and achievements.”

Mr. Villarreal said he is only now becoming aware of operational issues, including security for the estimated 400,000 people expected each day. Noting he has been to Shanghai in mid-summer, when the fair will run, and hopes people won’t face long lines, saying “it’s hotter than Houston, more humid than Houston.”

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