Hungary cancels World Expo

HUNGARY will not hold the 1996 World Expo after all. On July 28, the country's new Socialist-led government voted to pull the plug on preparations for Expo96, a decision that is almost certain to be confirmed next month in Parliament.

Expo's estimated cost to taxpayers grew from $228 million a year ago to $950 million today. Hungarian press reports place total savings from the cancellation of the event at 18.26 forints ($182 million), with about 12 billion forints ($120 million) invested to date.

Preparations for the event have been in serious trouble for some time. The ``Expo City'' being constructed on the Danube River, in a bleak district of southern Buda, was scaled back significantly because of scheduling and financial constraints.

Over the past 10 months, the Expo Program Office scrapped the construction of several key buildings as well as a planned extension of the subway system. Almost one-half of the commercial real estate parcels in and adjacent to the fairgrounds was never offered to investors; of the parcels that were, only three of 14 found buyers. This exacerbated Expo's financial difficulties, since the sale of the plots to hotel and office developers was expected to raise 10 to 12 percent of Expo's original $1 billion price tag.

Related infrastructure improvements will be completed, including a new highway bridge across the Danube and an orbital highway around the capital.

Reaction to the government's decision is mixed. ``The additional costs of hosting the Expo are really insignificant when compared with the size of the budget,'' says Laszlo Csaba, research director at the Kopint-Datorg Institute. ``The decision was driven mostly by political factors.''

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