BY JOHN CATSIMATIDIS
This past week, Queens Borough President, Melinda Katz, and a number of elected, civic and community leaders held a news conference to announce a series of events to commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the 1939 World’s Fair and the 50th Anniversary of the 1964-65 World’s Fair.
Sadly, to New Yorkers who aren’t old enough to remember the 1964-65 Fair, their sole image of it are some dilapidated structures, badly in need of maintenance and, quite frankly, an eyesore and disgrace to the City. They sit in Flushing Meadows Corona Park as rusting remnants of the forgotten past.
I challenge those younger New Yorkers to walk up to someone they know in their mid-50s or older and ask this simple question: did you go to the 1964 World’s Fair?
I guarantee you, that if the individual attended, their face will brighten and they will respond along the lines of “Oh yes, it was great!”
I turned 15 in 1964 and I went to the fair numerous times, with both my parents and my buddies from school. It was what I like to call a “WOW” moment, and for a kid who had grown up poor in Harlem, it opened my eyes as to what the world had to offer and what the future held. Fifty-one million people visited the 1964-65 World’s Fair, which, at the time, nearly equaled the total population of Great Britain.
Last year, during my race for mayor, my campaign did a great deal of polling. One of the most interesting findings was that 73 percent of New Yorkers were in favor of New York City hosting another World’s Fair.
New Yorkers instinctively understand the benefits of another World’s Fair; job creation, economic development, as well as long overdue improvements to infrastructure and mass transit systems are only a few of the benefits that spring to mind.
It’s time that New York City explores the concept of hosting another World’s Fair and like New Yorkers always do, we should be thinking outside of the box.
Let’s look at the concept of a World’s Fair in all five boroughs, linked by improvements to our mass transit system, including the development of a long overdue Water Borne Transit System that will take advantage of one of New York City’s great natural resources; its harbor.
Let’s entice major high tech corporations and growing economic powerhouses like China, Russia or India to showcase their vision of what the world will be like by the end of the 21st Century.
Let’s challenge the exhibitors to create reusable and sustainable pavilions; facilities and infrastructure that would truly benefit our City and its people long after the fair had closed. Examples could range from a company like Microsoft building a pavilion that could be easily refitted to house business incubators for new high tech start-up companies or if the NFL, the NBA or Major League Baseball were to build a pavilion, it could be designed to have a secondary use as a field house or training facility for our public schools and CUNY Colleges.
In 1964, jet travel was a fairly new form of transportation used by a small segment of the population and our airports were designed for that time. Wouldn’t a World’s Fair be a great incentive to update and improve our airports, bringing them up to the standards of other major international cities and perhaps finally linking LaGuardia to a rail system that would carry travelers into Manhattan?
What we can achieve is merely constrained by the limits of our vision and ingenuity.
New York City is home to some of the greatest minds in fields like finance, urban planning, architecture and construction, not to mention scores of Fortune 500 Companies with their headquarters either located in the city or its suburbs. It’s time for Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio to encourage our business and civic leaders to create a partnership between the private and public sectors so as to examine the feasibility of a New York World’s Fair for the 21st Century.
John Catsimatidis is Chairman and CEO of the Red Apple Group, one of New York City’s largest privately held companies. In 2013, he was a Republican candidate for mayor.