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The promise of the 2027 Expo has guided Bloomington's economic development plans for years.

The city has guarded against development of large parcels near light-rail stations and last month moved to buy a hotel property near the site. The Expo logo even made its way onto city business cards.

But a vote Wednesday in Paris by the International Bureau of Expositions, or BIE, awarded the massive trade show to Belgrade, Serbia, instead. The decision leaves Bloomington to figure out what's next as it tries to develop empty lots around the Mall of America.

"It leaves us where were before," Bloomington Mayor Tim Busse said. "We've got a blank palette we can work on development with."

The city and the Bloomington Port Authority spent a total of $584,084 on Expo expenses over the past 18 months — just more than 0.1% of Bloomington's total spending in that time, according to the city. A $250,000 grant from Hennepin County covered some of those costs.

The South Loop area where the Expo would have been held — a triangular spot bounded by the Minnesota River, Interstate 494 and Hwy. 77 — has shown signs of life in recent years, especially after some prodding and incentives from the city and state.

High-tech manufacturing is taking root, with the recent arrivals of semiconductor maker Polar and Sick, a German company that makes products to support chipmakers.

Lower-tech developments are being built, too: Apartment buildings are springing up, and a grocery store is destined for the ground floor of one building.

But the roughly 60 acres that had been set aside for the Expo, right at the center of the South Loop, still look pretty desolate. The largest sections are a fenced parking lot the Mall of America owns across the highway from its east parking ramp and a vacant city-owned lot where the Thunderbird Motel, which later became a Ramada, once stood on American Boulevard before it was torn down.

The rush to build an Expo campus in just less than four years could have sped development on those parcels in a way that will be hard to replicate, especially because there is little water or sewer infrastructure in place on either property.

Busse said developers have had interest in both parcels, but the city has held back, waiting for the Expo decision. With no Expo, Bloomington officials hope other developments will rush in to fill the void.

But not just any developments.

"We are going to take some time to reassess what we want to do with those," Port Authority Administrator Holly Masek said.

Hospitality and tourism remain the economic backbone of Bloomington, but Masek said she hopes to see more high-tech manufacturing, life-science research or even a health care facility go up where the Expo campus could have been, to add to what's happening in the South Loop.

"Those companies that have done development in that area have done really interesting things, and we want to continue that momentum," she said.

That property is separate from the place where mall owner Triple Five Group wants to build a massive water park — a project that remains on hold but is still viable, Masek said.

There is no immediate plan for the Mall of America-owned parcel, Kurt Hagen, Triple Five's vice president for development, said in an email, other than using it as overflow parking for the mall during a future phase of development.

Busse said the city should hold out for the right developments, which could have an outsized impact in a metro area where only a few large open parcels remain in the inner-ring suburbs.

"I would like to see a variety of opportunities that will continue to make Bloomington a place where people want to be," Busse said — more than the hotel-and-parking monoculture that has long surrounded the megamall.

"We've got a lot of space there," he said. "Whatever we want to do, we want to do it right."