Our View: Looking back at the World’s Fair

Published 11:55 pm Saturday, November 17, 2012

An anniversary of a milestone event that forever altered the landscape of a broad swath of rundown property in New Orleans recently passed with hardly a whimper.

A week ago today marked 18 years since the closing of the 1984 World’s Fair, a six-month-long party that attracted millions of tourists to the Crescent City and proved to be an entertainment bonanza for local residents.

Nearly 20 years after the lights went out; some mistakenly insist the fair was a financial boondoggle. If evaluated strictly through the prism of general accounting perhaps they may have a point, however shortsighted it may be.

From its inception, the fair was fraught with delays, the state was accused of not paying contractors, contractors were threatening to walk off the job, and the garden variety accusations of corruption linked to any project involving public funds in Louisiana were rampant.

The naysayers were disproven mightily, as from the time the balloons were released the music and the dancing never stopped.

To claim the fair was a financial mistake is to lose sight of the bigger picture. From the dregs of an area filled with abandoned warehouses and crime rose a tony neighborhood known as the Warehouse District.

At the equator of the former World’s Fair site sits the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, which has evolved into the aorta of the city’s economic engine, pumping millions of dollars annually into the pockets of business owners throughout the region.  Convention goers from around the world arrived in throngs and spent their money throughout the region, from plantation home tours in the River Parishes to the Wildlife Center in St. Tammany Parish.

Restaurants, bars, countless shops, taxi drivers … the list goes on of those who daily reaped the benefit of the World’s Fair. Those are real dollars.

The World’s Fair was not structured to be measured in dollars and cents. Rather, the real benefit is how developing that area has spawned an entire entertainment district in a previously rundown area, much the same way the construction of the Superdome transformed a series of old railroad yards into a thriving business district.

Even if one were to measure the fair financially, the overall result would be overwhelmingly positive by any standard. Consider the millions of dollars in sales tax and property tax the area has generated in the past 18 years. 

Without the fair, that same area likely would still be a cradle of crime and drug trafficking.

The success of some events cannot be measured on a ledger sheet. Rather, success has to be determined by what impact was left behind as a result.

In this case, there is no doubt the 1984 World’s Fair will always have a rich culture and financial legacy.