Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 18 November 2019

Financial troubles stall construction of US pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai

US Consul General is confident funding for the $60 million pavilion will come through

The design for the $60 million US pavilion for Expo 2020 Dubai, as revealed last year. The new design will likely be changed to reduce costs in a bid to secure funding. Courtesy USA Expo
The design for the $60 million US pavilion for Expo 2020 Dubai, as revealed last year. The new design will likely be changed to reduce costs in a bid to secure funding. Courtesy USA Expo

The US has yet to secure funding and begin construction on its $60 million pavilion for Expo 2020 Dubai, but one of the country’s top diplomats is confident the building will be delivered in time.

Philip Frayne, US Consul General in Dubai, said a bill was presented to a foreign affairs committee last week to authorise the US Secretary of State to fund the structure.

Plans for the futuristic pavilion were revealed last year but construction has been delayed after a private consortium failed to raise the money needed.

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Update: US House of Representatives passes bill to fund pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai

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Unlike other countries where governments fund pavilion expenditure, public funds cannot be used for US expo pavilions without approval from Congress.

It was a similar situation in 2014 when another group of US companies struggled to source private sponsorship for the Milan Expo.

“With time running out this summer we decided we can’t wait for the private consortium to come up with the necessary funds,” Mr Frayne told The National.

“They tried quite hard over the past year to raise that money and they were not able to do it so that's why the bill is in Congress to allow us to use public funds."

Philip Frayne, US Consul General in Dubai, (L) and Frederick Bush, Pavilion USA 2020 Chairman, (R) unveil the model of US Pavilion in November 2018. Pawan Singh / The National
Philip Frayne, US Consul General in Dubai, (L) and Frederick Bush, Pavilion USA 2020 Chairman, (R) unveil the model of US Pavilion in November 2018. Pawan Singh / The National

It is unclear how long the process may take but Mr Frayne said Senators have been made aware about the urgency to begin construction as several countries have already begun work at the Dubai South site. The US was due to break ground on its pavilion before the end of the year.

“We are pushing very hard to have quick action on this,” said Mr Frayne.

“My sense is that all of the Congressmen and the Senators we have spoken to understand the importance of our participation in the Expo.

“They understand that … there is not enough time left to raise that kind of money in the private sector.

“My sense is that they are all going to support this bill that would allow us to use public money.”

This bill will be discussed and voted on by US House Foreign Affairs committee. It will then go to both houses — the Senate and the House of Representatives — for another vote before reaching President Donald Trump for a final signature.

But breaks are scheduled for Thanksgiving next month and the bill could be sidelined by more pressing issues, such as funding for disaster relief programmes or payments for farmers.

“It could be in two weeks, it could be in two months. We just don’t know,” Mr Frayne said.

He said the US Expo team is working to lower the $60 million budget estimate by scaling back the architecture and design.

The new cost is still to be determined but using different construction materials and a new design will save “a considerable amount of money,” he said.

“It may not look like the design we unveiled last year, it may have a different shape but it will still be a very nice design.

“What is more important is what is inside it and we have gone ahead planning that."

The US began to face funding challenges after it hired companies to raise money from the private sector.

Most pavilions at World Expos are state funded with big budgets upward of $50 million for the temporary structures.

However, a law passed in the 1990s prevents federal funds being used in the US without special approval from Congress.

The controversy over using public funds dates back to the 1992 expo in Seville, Spain, when Congress blocked the use of taxpayers’ money.

The United States Information Agency, that ran the country’s public diplomacy efforts and was responsible for US pavilions overseas, was disbanded in 1999 — effectively ending public sector support.

Since then, pavilion projects have struggled to draw corporate sponsors.

There was no US pavilion at the 2000 Expo in Hannover, Germany, for a lack of private funding.

American media reported that a non-profit group of companies selected to run the pavilion at the 2015 Milan Expo ran into financial losses.

The pavilion at the 2010 Shanghai Expo also struggled for sponsors during a global recession.

The rest of the world's Expo 2020 Dubai pavilions

Updated: November 1, 2019 01:38 PM

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