World's fairs aren't cheap, but Vancouver expects a big pay-off

Patrick Reed, the Canadian commissioner general for Vancouver's Expo 86, had only recently got the news: Britain's Prince and Princess of Wales will open this world's fair May 2. That's the sort of publicity-providing event that puts exposition managers on their knees in gratitude.

Officials in this west-coast city figure the $1.5 billion Canadian (about $1.1 billion American) international exposition, perhaps the last of the century, is in good shape physically. Construction on the 185-acre site on the north shore of salt-water False Creek will be basically finished by the end of the month.

Costs will even be a shade under budget, says Jim Pattison, the multimillionaire chairman of the Expo 86 Corporation. Now starting up is the installation of exhibits by 45 nations or states, seven Canadian provinces and two territories, as well as some 30 participating corporations. All of these exhibits will have to deal in some way with transportation or communications. The theme of the fair is the World in Motion.

But the key to the fair's financial, political, and cultural success will be how many people pass through the turnstyles before the fair closes Oct. 13.

Organizers estimate some 15 million visits. However, their budget assumes some 13.7 million visitors. The budget already anticipates a huge direct operating loss of more than $311 million. Claude Richmond, provincial minister of tourism, says it is ``virtually impossible'' for any world's fair to make money nowadays.

Revenues, the budget estimates, will come to $491 million from admissions, the sale of retail merchandise and food, amusement rides, licensing, corporate sponsors, participant pavilion fees, tickets for name entertainment, and so on.

Expenditures for operations, construction, land, the British Columbia pavilion, and interest are budgeted at $802 million. (Exhibitors and other participants are expected to spend another $698 million.) So far tickets covering perhaps 6.6 million visits (assuming so many visits per season or three-day pass) have been sold.

At first Expo 86 was criticized by the opposition National Democratic Party as another bad example of the tendency of the governing Social Credit Party to finance massive, expensive projects. However, the fair has now such widespread public support in the province that the opposition has climbed onto the bandwagon.

``We see Expo as a very integral part of the program for diversifying the provincial economy,'' says Norman Spector, deputy minister to Premier Bill Bennett. ``It will focus the world's attention on British Columbia. We think we have something pretty special here.''

Aside from the direct income of Expo, the provincial government is counting on $126 million in Expo-generated indirect revenues in the form of taxation on salaries from Expo-created jobs and on extra corporate profits, sales taxes, etc. It also plans to get $250 million from a special provincial lottery lasting into 1990.

Also, officials point out, once the fair closes, the city will have gotten a fair trade for its investment. It will be left with a rehabilitated railway roundhouse where the first trans-Canada train arrived 100 years ago, the Canada Pavilion, which will serve as a trade and convention facility with berthing for as many as five cruise ships; improvements to the site, which will be turned into a massive recreational, housing and office and commercial building project known as B.C. Place; plus a new rapid transit system.

``I don't think there will be another fair like this in my lifetime,'' says Mr. Pattison. No other country currently plans to go to the huge expense of launching another world's fair.

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