"I'll be there.. you've got to be there at the World's Fair!" That marketing pitch blared from the TV all summer long in 1982.
Let's set the stage.
Ronald Reagan was President (He was there).
Jake Butcher had just lost the Governor's race to Lamar Alexander (oh brother, he was there.. he bankrolled the whole thing).
And WDEF News 12 (or Tri-State Report, as we called ourselves back then) was there, too. A lot.
For the 5 months that the Fair ran in Knoxville, we ran stories from the Fair's own TV station and sent our own reporters to dig up every possible feature. And that seemed fitting since just about every local civic and childrens' group had to go see the Fair.
So let's take a trip down memory lane to see what all the fuss was about.
Last Minute Preps
Reporter Pat Jarrett shows us the last minute rush to open the fair in May. Also, what you can expect to find there.
And look, there are Robots!
The Opening Ceremonies
A report from the World's Fair Bureau on the opening day of the fair, including President Reagan's visit.
The Chinese Exhibit
Now let's look at the international exhibits. The Chinese were the stars. This was the first World's Fair they had ever taken part in. So they had a lot of cultural treasures to show to the world. Remember, they were only beginning to come out of their self-imposed isolation to the outside world. Reporter Pat Jarrett has the story.
The Australian Exhibit
Do you remember the days (pre-Paul Hogan & Outback Restaurants) when the biggest export from Australia was Pop stars? Helen Hardin has the story.
The Korean Exhibit
The stars at the Korean exhibit were the dancers. But you won't find them trying out for Solid Gold. Ken Martin shows us the work behind classical Korean dance.
The Japanese Exhibit
The 1982 World's Fair introduced us to touch screen computer displays & Cherry Coke. But we don't have video of any of that. Instead, we've got lots of video of those robots that the Japanese love so much. Ken Martin is the reporter.
The Bluegrass Experience
The cultural exchange went both ways. The world came to Tennessee. And we showed them some good old Volunteer traditions like Moonshine, Log Flumes, and Bluegrass-- "The best we can do it", at least. Pat Jarrett has the musical journey.
The Amusement Park
The energy displays could be a bit dry for kids. So organizers built an Amusement park on site full of rides. They even brought over the world's tallest ferris wheel from Europe.
The Fair was all about discovery. Most things were new. Some ideas were old. This was an old idea that was given a new twist... Rickshaws on bikes.
Hang gliding For The Fair
Tennessee also presented two outdoor sports for the fair. And both just happen to play well in the Chattanooga area... whitewater and hang gliding.
The Tourist Boom
The World's Fair was the motherlode for tourism. 11 Million people would visit Knoxville for the Fair. And a lot of them would come through Chattanooga. You could say it saved our struggling tourist traps on Lookout Mountain. Remember, this was pre-Aquarium. But the best part of this story is the "You've got to be there" commercial.
The Riverbend Connection
And finally this historical note. If the World's Fair never came to Knoxville, would Chattanooga have ever started Riverbend, built an Aquarium and re-developed the waterfront? Watch this story and you'll see what the Knoxville-Chattanooga rivalry can do.
Now here is a question for you. Who did better after the fair.. Knoxville or Chattanooga?
The fair was a success, but not a smash. It met attendance goals & energized the city and the southeast to think big.
But the Knoxville boom failed to materialize. Less than a year after the closing, Jake & CH Butcher and their United American Bank were under investigation for financial irregularities. The common wisdom was that the Fair drained their coffers. The Butcher Brothers were headed to jail.
The shiny, new buildings didn't last long at the site. Efforts to keep commercial enterprises going their came and went. Buildings were converted to other uses. The U.S. Pavilion was demolished nine years later. The Sunsphere was empty for years.
Chattanooga, on the other hand, took off after 1982. Riverbend was a hit. In the couple of decades, we would build Hamilton Place Mall (87), The Tennessee River Walk (91), The Tennessee Aquarium & Plaza (92), The Bluff View District (92), The Walnut Street Bridge (93), Coolidge Park (99), 21st Century Riverfront (06). All of those are still thriving today.
Just in the last couple of years, Knoxville hired our former Mayor, Jon Kinsey, to try yet another downtown reboot. So tell me. Who really capitalized on the energy from the World's Fair?