'92 World's Fair whips up debate in Windy City

When it comes to World's Fairs, Chicago is a veteran. The city hosted the 1983 Columbian Exposition and the 1933 Century of Progress. In 1992, it plans to put on another global show. But several problems have cropped up.

For one thing, not everyone likes the proposed site on Lake Michigan.

Some city aldermen wanted the fair moved to economically depressed Lake Calumet in south Chicago. So, two weeks ago, a handful of city officials paid a well-publicized visit to the site. They were not imporessed by the surroundings: an Interstate highway, a steel plant, and a garbage dump. According to newspaper reports, the bus carrying the aldermen almost got stuck in a muddy goo.

Yacht owners, meanwhile, complained they would lose moorings and docks on Lake Michigan because of the fair. And the South Loop Planning Board, a non-profit group of property owners, complained that the fair would do nothing to spur development unless a gulf of largely unused railroad tracks -- separating the area from the lakefront -- could be bridged over.

Finances have also been a thorn. Mayor Harold Wahington kept repeating that the city would not spend any money on the fair -- then-Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson (R) took him to task, saying that the mayor was trying to reap benefits without paying the dues.

Now, both issues are reaching a compromise.

Late last month, the World's Fair-1992 Authority agreed to move the fair site slightly westward. This would reduce the amount of needed landfill, give yacht owners a possible new harbor, and fill in part of the railroad gulf that concerns the South Loop group.

Then state and local officials convened April 6, making "substantial progress" on a spending compromise, according to Governor Thompson.

The wrangling hasn't stopped, however. Last week, Mayor Washington wrote a letter to the governor and the chairman of the fair authority saying he was dissatisfied with several provisions of the proposed agreement.

Any plan must also pass the state General Assembly, and many downstate lawmakers are watching closely to make sure Chicago pays its share of the fair's expenses. A proposal by advisers to he fair authority that would have raised money by increasing hotel-motel taxes has been dropped, because the tax increases would have been higher in some Chicago suburbs than in the city itself.

Another unresolved issue is that proposed parking space could compete with the very real-estate development that officials hope the fair will bring. But fair officials are confident that a 1992 World's Fair in Chicago is a sure bet.

"I think it's [dependable] like ivory Soap -- 99 and 44/100 percent possible, " says Robert Hutchins, a partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, one of the fair's two coordinating architects.

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