Impact not always immediate

Published 12:00 am 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 the anniversary of the closing of the 1984 World’s Fair, a six-month party that attracted millions of people to the Crescent City, passed.

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

From its inception, the fair was fraught with delays, the state not paying contractors, contractors threatening to walk off the job, the garden variety accusation of corruption linked to any project involving public funds in Louisiana, and the high anxiety of all venues not being ready by opening day.

The naysayers were proven wrong as ready it was, even with a few glitches that can always be expected. From the time the balloons were released, the music and the entertainment 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 heart 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 arrive in throngs and spend 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.

But the World’s Fair should not be measured in dollars and cents, not given how it has spawned economic development 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 standards. 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 on what impact was left behind as a result.

In this case, there is no doubt the 1984 World’s Fair was a success that has left behind a financially viable footprint.