FINANCIAL WOES DELAY BUILDING OF US PAVILION
▶ Consul general believes funding for Expo structure will come through
The US has yet to secure funding to begin construction of its $60 million (Dh220m) pavilion at the Expo 2020 Dubai site, but one of the country’s top diplomats is confident the building will be completed in time.
Philip Frayne, US Consul General in Dubai, said a bill was presented to the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives last week to authorise the US secretary of state to fund the structure.
Plans for the futuristic pavilion were revealed last year but construction was delayed after a private consortium failed to raise the money needed.
Unlike other countries where governments bear the cost of building pavilions, public funds in the US cannot be used for expo structures without congressional approval.
A similar situation occurred 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 funds,” Mr Frayne told The National.
“They tried quite hard over the past year to raise that money and were not able to do it, so that’s why the bill is in Congress to allow us to use public funds.”
It is unclear how long the process will take but Mr Frayne said US senators were aware of how pressing the matter was.
Several countries have already begun work at the Dubai South site. The US was due to break ground on the pavilion before the end of the year.
“We are pushing very hard to have quick action on this. My sense is that all the congressmen and senators we have spoken to understand the importance of our participation in the Expo,” Mr Frayne said.
“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.”
The bill will be discussed and voted on by the House Foreign
Affairs Committee. It will then go to the House of Representatives and then the Senate.
If it is passed in both, it will be sent to US President Donald Trump for his signature.
But congressional 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 don’t know,” Mr Frayne said.
He said that the US Expo team is working to reduce the $60m estimate by scaling back the architecture and design.
Though the new cost of the pavilion is still to be determined, the use of different construction materials and a new design will save “a considerable amount of money”, Mr Frayne 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,” he said.
“What is more important is what is inside it and we have gone ahead planning that.”
A US law passed in the 1990s prevented federal funds from being used without special approval from Congress.
The debate over using public funds dates back to the 1992 expo in Seville, when Congress blocked the use of taxpayers’ money for the country’s pavilion at the event.
The US Information Agency, which 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 because of a lack of private sector funding.
US 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 US is trying to reduce its $60-million pavilion budget after a private consortium struggled to raise the funds