Chicago, Paris vie for next world's fair

Move over, Knoxville!

Chicago is ready and eager to host the next world's fair, setting its sites for the summer of 1992, the 500th anniversary of Columbus's discovery of America.

The Windy City's bid was endorsed months ago by the US Commerce Department and this week by President Reagan in a letter to Britain's E.R.I. (Ted) Allan, chairman of the Paris-based Bureau of International Expositions (BIE).

The BIE also is weighing a bid from Paris to host a similar gala in 1989, the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution.

BIE rules now stipulate that international fairs must be 7 to 10 years apart. But the group has not ruled out suggestions of a compromise plan to amend the rule to allow one international fair each decade, Mr. Allan says. If BIE officials buy that proposal, Paris and Chicago could both win. The current fair in Knoxville is considered a smaller, special category fair and, as such, would not compete with Paris's international fair bid for the 1980s.

In any case, Chicago is sparing no effort in its detailed advance spadework, and political leaders here remain outwardly confident that, if need be, the city can outshine its competition across the Atlantic. Support for the fair is one of the few times these days when Illinois Gov. James Thompson and Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne have joined forces in pursuit of a common goal.

The Chicago business community also is backing the bid with volunteer time and dollar contributions via the World's Fair 1992 Corporation, a nonprofit organization headed by retired Commonwealth Edison chairman Thomas Ayers.

The BIE, expected to select a host in December, listened to a presentation from Chicago leaders in Paris a few months ago and is here this week for an on-the-scene inspection of the city's qualifications. The four-member team - comprised of representatives from Great Britain, Finland, the Soviet Union, and France - has been touring the city by helicopter and is meeting with fair planners from architects to convention authorities.

Members are being told that Chicago will fill in part of its lakefront for the fair site, just south of the downtown area, and also will build new parking lots and water mains, widen nearby expressways, renovate downtown subway stations, and connect the site with a new sewer line.

Mayor Byrne told the BIE visiting team that the city's planned $3 billion capital improvement project will virtually ''rebuild'' Chicago during the decade before the fair begins.

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