Monday, May 01, 2006

Another NYC World's Fair?

Maybe the third time will be the charm.

Local promoters of a 2012 or 2015 World's Fair in New York City say they are putting together a proposal for one in Willets Point, adjacent to Flushing Meadow Park. The park (home of the Unisphere, Queens Museum, Hall of Science, former Port Authority Transportation Building, buried Time Capsule and sadly rotting Phillip Johnson-designed New York State Pavillion) served as home to the 1939-40 and 1964-65 World's Fairs. The Flushing Meadows-Corona Park World's Fair Association held a press gathering on Sunday that generated coverage today via Gothamist, which Gowanus Lounge has long read faithfully and from which he learns much, and in the Daily News and AM New York.

Will an Olympics-spurned City Hall go for the lure of a major international expo, despite the fact they are quaint anachronisms from the 20th century that tend to require humongous public subisidies and run up monstrous deficits?

Maybe. (It's a big, flashy project if Daniel Doctoroff and Company opt not to pursue NYC 2016). Maybe not. (Obstacles include other plans for Willets Point and huge opposition to claiming parkland for a new fair.)

A little recovered memory is in order: The Robert Moses-run 64-65 affair (which took place outside the framework of the Bureau of International Expositions, the BIE, which "governs" such expos) attracted 51.6 million people and lost nearly $100 million in 2006 dollars. It required emergency public funding to avoid bankruptcy in 1965 and lawsuits continued into the early 1970s. The last U.S. fair in New Orleans in 1984 went into bankruptcy and was such a disaster that there hasn't been another American one in more than 20 years.

Even if New York finds a way to finance a $3 billion to $5 billion undertaking, there would be competition. The same letter from the BIE that supporters cited as "welcoming" an Expo bid also noted that because, among other things, the U.S. withdrew from the BIE in 2001, its chances of being granted an Expo are "almost nil." Last time GL check, "nil" meant really, really bad.

Expomuseum.com, which tracks World's Fair-related things, reports possible bids for "small" single-theme 2012 expos from Antwerp, Belgium and Yeosu, South Korea. There are two serious 2015 bids from Toronto and from Atlanta, and possible interest from Izmir, Turkey, Moscow, San Francisco and Torino.

Zaragoza, Spain, is holding an Expo in 2008 with the them of "Water and Sustainable Development." Shanghai will host a $3 billion expo in 2010 with the theme "Better City, Better Life," and is projecting 70 million visitors. (Among the Shanghai expenses: Nearly $602 million for relocating people from the site.)

Gowanus Lounge loves a World's Fair and often visits the relics in Flushing Meadow, but wonders if there is a better public use for several billion dollars. On the other hand, the architecture would be very, very cool.

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