An animated Grand Mosque, a plywood Buddhist temple, a gigantic glass ball colored with 24-karat gold dust. Bibles, plastic Brazilian shoes and half-a-million hot dogs. Johnny Cash and the Gatorade Sports Hall of Fame. Eight tons of garbage a day.
It all comes together this summer in a geological crease in the middle of Knoxville--a Phenomenon known as the 1982 World's Fair--and it will "change the world," say promoters. Now Andy Warhol's famous maxim that in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes has a municipal equivalent: 23 countries have traveled to east Tennessee, and the fair's promoters expect about 11 million "visits" from tourists and locals, producing a profit of $16.7 million.
The story of how a production as grand as a world's fair got to a small Appalachian city of 180,000 on the banks of the Tennessee River goes back to 1974. That year an organizer of the Spokane World's Fair with the unlikely name of King Cole spoke to a group of businessmen about the marvels of fairs-- downtown development, tourists, and, yes, money.
The United States had held three world's fairs in a dozen years, hurdy-gurdy marriages of cultural exotica with theme parks and big-name entertainment. Foreign countries and their costly exhibits were courted like rock stars, and sophisticated promoters cast high- tech nets for passing Winnebagos.
One member of Cole's audience, a Knoxvillian named Stewart Evans, remembers that Cole asked, "Did Knoxville have a mall? Did we have a convention center? We didn't, but I saw that we could get 'em. Everything he said about Spokane applied to Knoxville, only better. We could also get our freeways updated. I left that meeting with my mouth watering."
Evans and fellow members of the Downtown Knoxville Association had been searching for "a quantum jump to get us developed," and here at last was the springboard. They picked out a dandy spot for a world's fair--a rundown railroad yard between the university and the Knoxville business district, with a creek nicknamed "Stinky" running through it. But most of their fellow citizens--and the rest of the world --thought the idea was, well . . . dumb. A world's fair in Knoxville?
"Nashville laughed at us," says the mayor of Knoxville. "Memphis laughed at us. Chattanooga laughed at us. Well, they're not laughing now."
No, indeedy. In fact they have near broke their nails trying to crawl on board the money machine. The fair, starting May 1, is expected to lard $120 million into the city's economy during its six-month run, producing a cyclone of prosperity in the recessional doldrums.
London's Crystal Palace Exposition launched this industry in 1851. Since then, the United States has staged 27 international expositions. The telephone was displayed at the Philadelphia fair in 1876, and the ice cream cone in St. Louis in 1904, but the most famous bit of fairiana--Knoxville's gold ball notwithstanding--is the Eiffel Tower, considered monumental kitsch in 1889 and now the universal symbol of Paris and French artistic daring.
Knoxville's fair--a salubrious concoction of politics and money that goes down smoothly in the South -- could provide an example for other American cities wanting to replicate its success. Here's how it's done: First form a committee, then find a pliable president of the United States. Get two senators, preferably a Democrat and a Republican, with chairs on the Foreign Relations and the Appropriations committees. Elect a mayor who wants to be governor. Apply for millions in federal funds. Buy a parcel of depressed real estate on the edge of downtown. Dip up some talent from the ever-deepening pool of professional World's Fairpersons.
Most important, find a local millionaire with a high tolerance for insult and as much brass as he has money. A man, in short, like Jake Butcher, who owns the United American Bank, Knoxville's largest.
"There's first class, and then there's Jake's class," says one of Butcher's reluctant admirers. Jake may be rich, but he's still "Jake" to Knoxvillians.
For openers, the board room at the top of Jake's bank--29 stories of reflective glass--contains an 88- foot table shaped like a horseshoe. Jake commissioned that table and added three dozen velvety swivel chairs, microphones in little felt sleeves, pretty ladies handing around mixed nuts and hidden speakers that can deliver lethal decibel counts of country and western, as well as Jake's commands phoned in from one of his airplanes.
Jake's bank reaches higher than the Sunsphere, the 266-foot symbol of the 1982 World's Fair and its theme, energy. The Sunsphere is a super-adenoidal version of those mirrored balls set on pedestals that have become so popular on rural lawns. On cloudy days, the Sunsphere resembles a celestial golf ball, teed up for Jake's 2-wood. Jake doesn't own the fair, but Jake's friends and associates cover the fair's development like the lambent mists cover the Smokies.
Jake's biscuit-eating grin can't disguise his drive-- some call it ruthlessness. He's a cross between a matinee gunslinger and a talk-show host, worth at least $10 million, and chairman of the board of the Knoxville International Energy Exposition, KIEE (better known as Kay-Eye-Dublee), the nonprofit corporation that runs the fair.
Like his bank, Jake is omnipresent in Knoxville. His name is often in the newspaper, though not often on the society pages--his money is a bit new for that. His voice twangs over the radio: "We now have 21 countries, more than any other World's Fair since 1939, when television was introduced . . ."
Jake, his hair prematurely silver, appears at a dinner for visiting ambassadors in the new Holiday Inn, wearing a charcoal-gray tux with black edging. He pumps ambassadors' hands amid the hay bales, split- rail fences and a simulated chuck wagon serving ribs and three-bean salad. Jake's toast ends with an upraised glass of whiskey: "Cheers!"
"You want to talk?" he later asks a visiting reporter. "Come on, we'll fly to Memphis."
At 45, Jake's a kind of up-holler Daddy Warbucks who supposedly became extinct with the graduated income tax. He expends enough personal and fiscal energy to be an exhibit in his own right. He once vowed that if he ever got rich he would build a house with as many bathrooms as the years he had to use an outhouse. He's up to 15. "I guess I got ahead of myself."
He started out as an Amoco distributor in east Tennessee, which is southern, Baptist and Republican, an area that had as little sympathy for slavery before the Civil War as it presently has for the recession (only 7 percent unemployment in Knoxville, three points below the state average). Jake, though, is a Democrat.
In 1968 he borrowed enough money to pick up a little bank in Oak Ridge. "It was considered a sin to sell a bank," says Jake, but he didn't mind being the one who bought it. Banks are a lot closer to God in east Tennessee than, say, gas stations. Nevertheless, Jake gave away quilts and blue tick hounds to lure depositors, and entertained them with pickin' and grinnin'. He hired himself a smart young country lawyer named G. W. Ridenour "so I wouldn't be embarrassed when I asked stupid questions" about banking.
Then Jake went to Knoxville and bought himself the Hamilton Bank. "That was unheard of," says Ed Boling, president of the University of Tennessee and an old Knoxvillian. "Jake was young, good-looking, debonair. He shook people up," including the entire membership of the Cherokee Country Club, symbol of the Knoxville establishment.
"His packages were so big that no one could comprehend them."
"Now I have four banks," says Jake.
"Five on Friday," says G. W.
At home in his Super King-air 200, Jake is bound for a bank meeting in Memphis. He wears a banker's pin stripes, but and as much brain the back of the plane are alligator-skin cowboy boots for walking through the mud at the National Polled Hereford Show in Jackson, Miss., where he's going after lunch.
Jake's steely eyes shuttle among the plane's passengers: G. W., one of Jake's many vice presidents, the reporter and a John Deere dealer. Butcher, who also trades in real estate and farm equipment, loves talking money 20,000 feet over middle Tennessee. The deposits in his banks total $1.5 billion. Jake's brother C. R.-- not to be confused with G. W. --owns another 14 or so banks with another $1.5 billion or so in deposits. The two have a very cordial relationship.
After buying the Hamilton Bank, Jake got interested in the notion of a World's Fair in his bank's shadow, encouraged by Stewart Evans. Knoxville's business leaders were as shocked by that proposal as they were when Jake bought the Hamilton Bank. "They were afraid we wouldn't get the people," says Jake, "when they sat there every year watching 10 million people pass through town on their way to the Smokies. They kept putting off the decision. I asked if they thought they'd be any smarter tomorrow than they were today."
"The movers and shakers of Knoxville just weren't moving and shaking," says Randy Tyree, the present mayor.
Jake, Bo Roberts, the president of Kay-Eye-Dublee, and a few other zealots convinced businessmen to travel to Washington state and see for themselves what the World's Fairs had done for Spokane and Seattle. They were impressed, but still scared. "Jake kept the fair from falling through the cracks," says Boling.
Both Tennessee senators agreed to help. "Howard"-- Jake pronounces it Hard-- "Baker introduced me to Elliot Richardson when Ford was president." But Jimmy Carter was the key. Jake had met him over breakfast in Chattanooga in 1974, and was an early supporter. Jake also loaned half- a-million dollars to a friend, Bert Lance.
President Carter backed the fair. The Commerce Department recommended certification by the Paris-based Bureau of International Expositions (BIE), which, it turned out, had more faith in Knoxville than a lot of Knoxvillians did. "In Paris," says Bo Roberts, "few people had ever heard of Knoxville, but the pros accepted the idea because of Spokane's success."
"Success" is a relative term in the argot of World's Fairs; mostly it means drawing power. The promoters in Spokane actually lost $700,000, although the city gained a park and new downtown commerce. Knoxville's more central location, and its proximity to the Smoky Mountain National Park, the most popular in the country, meant a potential draw much greater than Spokane's.
The BIE, a collection of representatives from the 38 member countries, agreed to recognize Knoxville's "specialized" World's Fair, as opposed to the grander category, "universal." In a universal fair, the individual countries build their own pavilions, rather than leasing space from developers; the last universal fair was held in Osaka in 1970. Specialized fairs are devoted to "a human branch of human endeavor," according to the BIE, and the cost is borne by the organizers. All Knoxville had to do was raise the money.
The city got a few assists from the White House, at that time a hollow stump on the banks of the Potomac packed with sympathetic southerners. The Department of Housing and Urban Development sent money to Knoxville, one of 300 cities eligible for urban renewal grants, though the city was far from the top of the list. Total federal grants eventually came to $12.5 million. The fair helped break loose money for the completion of the two interstate highways that come together in Knoxville--an intersection known as "malfunction junction" that cost $225 million to unscramble.
Sen. Baker sponsored an authorization bill for the fair in Foreign Relations that passed both houses of Congress. He and Sen. James Sasser (D- Tenn.) sponsored a $12.4 million appropriation for the American pavilion in Knoxville and $8.4 million in salaries and expenses, which also breezed through Congress.
In Knoxville, where the doubters still outnumbered the believers, Tyree brought in a Methodist minister to pray over the city council and heal the wounds--the council had voted down a referendum on the fair. The council and the mayor had refused to let the citizens vote on whether they wanted 60,000 visitors a day because, in Tyree's words, "it wouldn't have passed."
Knoxvillians are used to such creative politics. "We have exceptional politicians," says a vice president of Kay- Eye-Dublee. "The governor plays the piano with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. The mayor wins milking contests. They have very gifted hands."
Despite the apparent lack of good will toward the fair, the city council passed a $12 million bond issue to buy the old Southern-L&N railroad yards, and agreed to underwrite other loans, including money for a convention center and an office tower. But the success of the fair remained uncertain.
"Every time the private sector in Knoxville got woozy," Jake says, he got them back in line. "Tyree took care of the city council . . . Politics is everything in this country-- you can't get away from it."
Jake ran for governor in 1978 against the incumbent, Lamar Alexander. President Carter came down to tell Tennesseans that Jake was a treasure, but Jake lost anyway. He blames the loss on the perceived folly of the fair, but his association with a tainted Bert Lance didn't help.
"There were so many investigators in my bank that I couldn't tell them from the employes. The press really took after us. After the election I felt like a quail that's been shot at--I was still flying, but I had lost all my feathers."
The fair was still limping in 1979. The decision to have a fair had long since been made, but corporate participants were few, and developers were reluctant to invest. Jake got some advice from one of his bank's consultants, a man named Jesse Barr, described by several people in Knoxville as a "financial wizard." Barr's wizardry did not prevent him from going to jail in 1976 on several counts of bank fraud in Memphis. Barr helped work out creative financing for the fair's development when investors were slow to come forward.
"Barr is a very talented individual," says Tyree. "When it comes to financial packaging . . . They lost me in the first couple of days."
The total cost of developing the fair--construction, property improvements and operating expenses--should amount to about $100 million, according to Kay-Eye-Dublee. No one denies that much of the action has gone to Jake's associates, friends and family. Jake figures his bank alone will get about $40 million in deposits generated by the fair.
"Why shouldn't Jake and his friends make money on the fair?" asks Tom Bell, president of East Tennessee Natural Gas, and chairman of Kay- Eye-Dublee's executive committee. "Everybody had the opportunity to get in, but they're the ones who took the opportunity to get in, but they're the ones who took the risks."
Since London's Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851, World's Fairs have made a number of products famous: Belgian waffles, the steam engine, microwave cooking and linoleum, to name a few. Knoxville's contribution to that list may be remembered as the $30 million unsecured bank loan.
In 1979, the Chemical Bank of New York and Kay-Eye-Dublee entered into a credit agreement to finance construction and operating expenses. Participating in the agreement were 42 other banks, including American Security in Washington. Jake owned several of the participating banks. The banks were assigned to five different tiers, depending upon location, with the home banks due to profit most, but getting their money back last out of the fair.
Asked which tiers he's on, Jake says, "I'm on all five."
Chemical is the agent bank. "This is the first World's Fair to be privately financed," says Tim O'Brien, a Chemical vice president so at home in Knoxville that he wears Levis and no socks to dinner at the Hyatt's Volador restaurant. "I looked under every rock I could find. There's nothing wrong with the deal." Every month representatives of the 43 banks have met in Jake's board room to go over expenditures and release more of the $30 million loan to the fair's operators.
As recently as a year ago, critics were still predicting a boondoggle in Knoxville. Then one Yankee newspaper described Knoxville as "a scruffy little city," whereupon the local Hyatt Regency, which resembles an Aztec temple, named its tasty blend of barbecue "The Scruffy Little City's Smokehouse Sandwich," a typically genial response to the carpetbagger press. But the description made the natives mad and helped swing the city's remaining doubters into line.
It's hard to believe that the fair was once unpopular in Knoxville, when today it shares equal space with God and country. Knoxvillians don't even blink when they see Chinese diplomats in striped trousers mixing with cat hats and wide lapels in the airport lounge. Foreigners have become as common as NeHis in Knoxville.
The mood is buoyant and boosterish, even though many Knoxvillians unfortunate enough not to own their homes have been squeezed out like watermelon seeds, to make way for the tourists. One evicted tenant, a 59-year-old woman, told a local reporter, "I guess we would have lived here the rest of our lives . . . I'm hurt and I'm mad. My husband is crying."
Rising room rates have mimicked inflation in Argentina. But one landlord announced that he prayed before jacking up the rent.
"I like to think God's a good businessman," says the publicist for Kay-Eye-Dublee, Bill Carroll. The Baptists have a pavilion for the Bibles, and the Church of Christ will have a "goodness" exhibit: evidence of good works done by the corporate participants in the fair.
Carroll's job is to let the world know it can view chunks of the Great Wall of China and make its own pasta on 72 acres in southern Appalachia.
"We've created a comfort zone for dad, his wife and two nice kids. They'll spend hours at the fair and close to $100 on admission, souvenirs and food, before they're done," says an operations consultant who helped Spokane create its successful comfort zone in 1974. The idea is to create an environment where people with little money will feel uncomfortable. "The hippies and the food stamps will leave after 10 minutes. They just won't be in their comfort zone."
The fair has advertised as far afield as Baltimore. But almost all the advertising is being concentrated within a radius of 400 miles of Knoxville. "We're guaranteed the Ohio Navy," says one promoter, meaning those Yankees who regularly haul their boats on trailers through Knoxville on the way to Florida. The fair's teasers are: "You've got to be there" and "It's a once- in-a-lifetime experience," which is undoubtedly true.
"I have to keep telling myself that this isn't Disneyland," says Bill Francisco, who left Busch Entertainment Corp. to market the World's Fair for Kay-Eye-Dublee. "I'm not a packaging guy, I'm a leisure- time guy." Francisco helped build and operate the Old Country theme park near Williamsburg. "I handled marketing and advertising for the Loch Ness Monster roller coaster. It represented the state of the art in 1978."
There's not an iota of the 1982 World's Fair that has not been marketed. Knoxvillians who put up $2,500 early on were made honorary "ambassadors," and those who gave five grand received Golden Passports. Corporations joining the Key Club ($7,500) get a free parking space and invitations to parties for Bob Hope, the Grand Kabuki Theatre and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Key Club is the sine qua non of comfort zones.
American corporations, many of them southern, paid to become official 1982 World's Fair representatives. There's an official airline (Delta), an official drink (Coca-Cola), an official rental car (Avis). There's also an official film, beer, bus, catsup, gasoline, lock, baby food, coffee, coffee filter and, appropriately, an official cash register.
The fair gets free advertising through its sales of officialdom. "Stokely-Van Camp is an official sponsor," Francisco explains. "Every time somebody picks up a package of Beenee Weenees, they'll see something about the fair."
Stroh's, according to Carroll, "will be doing a lot of beer-selling and oom-pah-pahing" in the simulated German beer hall. Elsewhere, the hungry will find country ham, bagels and "Filipino treats."
Federal Express--the official air freight carrier, naturally --will have a laser beam with which to write upon the sky over Knoxville. There will be a pirate ship swung on cables, a double-decker carousel, and "the largest ferris wheel in North America."
A poll commissioned by the fair indicates that Americans coming to Knoxville this summer want glimpses of foreign countries--a kind of summer abroad for the $9.50 entrance fee--rather than theme rides. But the most effort and money seems to have gone into "exhibitry"--to use a fairism-- dealing with energy, the fair's theme.
Japan will have two robots discussing energy problems in Japanese and English. Mexico is creating a lake of oil beneath dangling video screens. Tenneco and Occidental Petroleum hauled oil shale east from the Rockies and created a simulated mine shaft. Australia is featuring windmills, as well as kangaroos. "The windmill's for energy," says Carroll, "the kangaroo for culture."
Even the power sub-station located on the fair site, used by the local utility company to pump juice to the University of Tennessee, is included in the fun. "They couldn't move the sub-station," says Carroll, "so they slapped some paint on that sucker and turned it into an exhibit."
"We're putting educational filler in a sugared cultural coating," says King Cole, who has been flying around the world for Kay-Eye-Dublee hustling countries. Egypt was the real cliffhanger.
The Saudis spent $4 million for mostly public relations. "Our imports create 3.5 million jobs in the United States," the Saudi representative laments, "but the message is just not getting through in the media. We'll reach the people in Knoxville. This isn't New York or Los Angeles--it's grass-roots America."
But how will they win hearts and minds with an animated Grand Mosque? "There'll be moving people! Lights will go on! There'll be a sound track!"
Francisco has lined up, with the help of consultants from the Smithsonian Institution, droves of bona fide folk artists who will fiddle, clog and make moonshine in the Folklife Center till the tourists come home. He has scheduled 150 entertainers--"biggies of the world" --plus 140 choirs and choral groups, and 375 marching bands. "The Oak Ridge Boys will be singing 'Elvira' in the stadium while Rudolf Nureyev is dancing 'Don Quixote' in the auditorium. That says it all."
The concessionaires plan to sell a million pounds of hamburger, washed down with 200,000 gallons of soft-drink syrup. Fourteen million pounds of ice will help mollify the Knoxville sun.
One of Knoxville's few remaining skeptics is a doleful University of Tennessee political science professor named Joe Dodd. A quote from the Athenian code hanging on the wall of Dodd's office advises all citizens to leave their city better than they find it.
"The local establishment has fallen into line so Knoxville won't be embarrassed. They're saying, 'If it's a Butcher fair, then let's make it a great Butcher fair!'" He thinks Knoxville will eventually pay through the nose to maintain the fair site and meet the long- term debt obligations.
"The city has delayed all the payments until after the next election. The costs of on-site development don't include sidewalks, repaving, police, etc. . . . We're aiding millionaires at the expense of taxpayers, and services."
The university is even cashing in on the fair, renting dormitory rooms for an estimated $2 million windfall.
The city got along for 42 years with only one
new hotel. It now has
several, and it is by no
means clear how the rooms will be filled after the fair-goers leave. "Conventions," says Tyree. Conventioneers could stroll over Belgian cobblestones bordering the fair's serpentine pond, eat at Hardee's concession in the Sunsphere or in one of the restaurants in the Station '82 development. But it remains to be seen whether they will.
Those intimately involved in the 1982 World's Fair aren't waiting to find out. Tyree's already trying to place his gifted hands on the governorship, with Jake's backing. Jake has lost interest in that office, but not in the Senate. Should Howard Baker or James Sasser weary of that marble hall, Jake wouldn't mind replacing them.
In the meantime, he'd settle for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee: "You got to be like that Marine on the deck of a rolling ship, ready to move in any direction."
The fair's middle management--mostly young, and on the make--is looking to establish reputations and fortunes this summer as well. "They've put their necks on the line," says Bo Roberts. "This is a risky kind of career springboard, but government and corporations are going to get some awfully good people who have been tested."
Bill Francisco wants to start his own consulting agency. Bo Roberts plans to use "the international expertise I've picked up" after the fair, if some other cities should want him. There should be plenty of takers. Tom O'Brien says, "I'm getting calls from Chicago," presently in competition with Paris for a 1992 universal fair. O'Brien's been twice to New Orleans, which is having a second category fair in '84.
A political campaign is the most common analogy made. That says more about the fair and its opportunities than anything else. The "election" is May 1, opening day, when the streets of Knoxville will resemble one huge link sausage packed with dads, moms and nice kids, plus a hundred thousand natives, give or take a few. Come the end of October, they will have to deal with the permanent incumbency of the Sunsphere and all it represents.
"A visit to the Knoxville World's Fair in 1982 will change you," proclaims a Kay- Eye-Dublee press release.
How will they keep them down in Disney World once they've seen Knoxville?u Graphics1: Pictur