In Chicago, prospect for a World's Fair in '92 meets skepticism

They've convinced the proper international governing body. Now promoters of the 1992 Chicago World's Fair have to convince their own residents; even themselves.

Since receiving the good wishes of the Bureau of International Exhibitions in Paris a couple of years ago, promoters have been dogged by neighborhood groups and Illinois legislators, who demand proof that such an event will be worth the estimated $1 billion it will cost to put on the show.

The fair is to be held at the same time as another World's Fair in Sevilla, Spain.

''We really haven't made a decision on a go or no-go, and we won't till next spring,'' says John Kramer, who has recommended that an independent feasibility study be conducted by a team led by Arthur D. Little & Co., a consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass. The consulting firm accepted the offer late last week. The team would receive a maximum of $750,000.

Mr. Kramer, who recently assumed the post of general manager of the Chicago World's Fair 1992 Authority, has also served as Illinois secretary of transportation and as chairman of Chicago's Regional Transportation Authority, where he developed a reputation for political diplomacy.

Diplomacy and salesmanship were in short supply before he joined the authority, critics say. Its previous secretary, George Burke, was fond of telling community groups: This is going to be good - trust us.

''He told a group in one of the Chicago Housing Authority (low-income housing) projects that . . . 'we'll hire 100 of your college graduates to go out and promote the World's Fair,' '' reports Frankie Knibb, executive director of the Chicago 1992 Committee, a coalition of community organizations opposing the fair. ''You can imagine how that went over.

''Now they're saying that the fair is going to make it possible to improve the streets and create boulevards in their neighborhoods. That's of burning interest to CHA residents,'' Ms. Knibb says, sarcastically.

Before assuming directorship of the privately funded coalition, she served on its board as a representative of the Chicago League of Women Voters. She co-chairs the league's Natural Resources Committee.

Citing her interest in ecology, she says she was concerned when she learned that the proposed fair site was to include a landfill in Lake Michigan. The landfill would be located south of Chicago's downtown Loop area.

''We were concerned about the possible pollution of both air and water, about the addition of parkland to a system that can't sustain what it already has, and the need for small open spaces in the urban environment, not concentrated along the lakefront,'' Ms. Knibb says.

The fair's critics also are concerned about the price tag.

They say the project might take money away from the private or matching funds available for neighborhood projects.

And even if the fair broke even - something modern world's fairs have not been noted for - its opponents argue that it would be a waste.

Their negative feelings extend to the $750,000 cost of the feasibility study, which is being commissioned at the behest of the state Legislature.

Lawmakers voted last June to give the fair authority $8.8 million last June, an amount they considered enough to keep it alive for a year. If the feasibility study convinces the Legislature that the fair is worth the resources and effort, lawmakers would be in a position to work out some funding formula.

Besides convincing people - including, he insists, himself - of the fair's feasibility, Kramer is trying to dispel the cloud raised by the unsuccessful 1983 New Orleans World Fair.

''New Orleans had some problems we won't have to face,'' he says. ''Our scope is bigger and therefore easier to promote. Their fair was small, like a state fair, and they have only about 20 million people within a day's drive. We have nearly that within 100 miles of Chicago.''

''They had the misfortune of coming at the same time as the Los Angeles Olympics, which drew away sponsors. They had only four years to plan from the date of approval vs. 10 years for us. And their performance has convinced us that we've got to have strict cost control and control over things like vendor price gouging,'' Kramer adds.

He says the fair authority must let neighborhood groups know there will be no displacement of residents, and the fair will create jobs, including jobs and contracts for minorities.

But Ms. Knibb isn't budging. She quotes a Chicago alderman as saying, ''The only way you can convince me that the fair is good for Chicago is by telling me there will be no fair.''

''I guess I feel that way too,'' she says.

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