Mark it down: another Chicago world's fair in 1992 maybe

Mark it down in your appointment book -- Chicago, 1992 -- but mark it down in pencil, not ink. Yes, plans are well under way for mounting a super-spectacular world's fair in Chicago to mark the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's discovery of America.

There is good precedent for Chicago honoring Columbus's (now-disputed) achievement. But even the precedent adds a note of cution. Chicago did celebrate the 400th anniversary of 1492 with the elaborate Columbian Exposition. Yet the lavish display of civic architecture, entertainment, education, and boosterism was held in 1893, not 1892, after a year's delay due to construction problems.

Wry observers of present-day Chicago say there could be even more serious delays this time around. The point out that not only must any world's fair project be approved by the Bureau of International Expositions in Paris and by the US Department of Commerce, but it would also need Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne's full support.

As a long list of recently sacked city officials -- and President Carter -- have learned, Mayor Byrne's support can prove short-lived.

Nonetheless, Chicago is proud of having mounted two major world's fairs: the 1893 Columbian Exposition and the 1933-34 Century of Progress Exposition. Both attracted important new investment to the Chicago area.

The 1893 fair sparked a round of major building projects. It is often credited with leading to the "Chicago Plan" of 1909, considered the first overall metropolitan plan for any American city.

Thanks to the 1893 exposition, Chicago gained an impressive array of public buildings. The Chicago Plan gave the city its lakeside string of elegant parks and the convenient high-speed Lake Shore Drive along sparkling Lake Michigan.

Today, Chicago Boasts the world's tallest (and some say ugliest) building, the Sears tower. And jutting up monumentally and with pristine beauty on the edge of Lake Shore Drive is the world's tallest marble structure, the Standard Oil Building.

But the city's public buildings have not kept pace with the soaring towers raised by the numerous giant corporations headquartered in Chicago. So to many it seems a logical next step to call on the wealthy corporations to pour some of their money into sponsoring a world's fair which could lead to a revival of civic building.

Respected Chicago businessman Thomas G. Ayers has been named to head a special committee set up to promote the 1992 world's fair. His position in the commercial community gives Mr. Ayers, retired chairman of Commonwealth Edision Company, a head start in the battle to secure the substantial financial backing from private sources that would be essential to mount the fair.

Perhaps equally important are Mr. Ayer's close ties to Mayor Byrne. Recently she selected him to head the Chicago School Board -- only to see him forced out by minority interests who demanded the appointment of a black. But even the Ayers influence with Mayor Byrne and major local corporations is no guarantee that Christopher Columbis will be lavishly remembered here in 1992.

So far, Byrne has shown far more enthusiasm for her own pet project: closing off Lake Shore Drive to hold an annual Monaco-style Grand Prix race alongside Lake Michigan.

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