QUEENS – Egad. This is weird territory, but kind of fascinating. There was an elderly Brooklyn man who, in the 1980s, driving in a Mercedes coupe on the Grand Central Parkway, crashed and turned upside down.
His distraction? He spied the Unisphere of the Queens World’s Fair, and was so entranced by his memories of the event that he flipped the car. He, a rational man, wanted it back.
Now deceased, this influential and sophisticated man lived to tell the story. He loved to tell the story. Because the fair was that much fun, or at least he said that.
Anyone who was at that fair will tell you of how amazing it was, and how it changed our culture. While it had its critics who then decried its rampant commercialism and connections to the evil-genius Robert Moses, it looks pretty good in hindsight. (What doesn’t?)
Amazingly, pieces of the 1964 New York World’s Fair are still around. This is proof that the idea of the park still has legs.
- It’s a Small World lives at Walt Disney World and Disneyland.
- Carousel of Progress is at Walt Disney World’s Tomorrowland.
- The Sinclair Dinosaur Uncle Beazley is displayed at the National Zoo, lovingly restored by Smithsonian officials who recognized how much these dino-gas figures are loved.
- Dinosaur Valley State Park preserves other Sinclair dinosaurs.
- The Uniroyal World’s Largest Tire lives in Michigan.
The site today is a pilgrimage spot. In addition, much of the park, including paths and structures, are still there. What to do with that brand equity? A fellow on YouTube has the answer. It’s bring back the World’s Fair! Ludicrous! No?
But wait. No rational person would want to re-create the fair as it was. It would lose as much money as the fair lost the first time around. Today, there is no one like Robert Moses to stiff-arm those deficits through the state legislature. Silly idea? Yes.
Still, the question is not a bad one. The question is good. Here is the question. The question is how to monetize and preserve Corona Park for today. Adrian Benepe’s New York City Department of Parks and Recreation has a big job. Not only does it have to keep the place clean and free of vandals and bad things, it has to pay to keep the existing structures around for this 1,200 acre former fun-fest. That question is asked all the time. Where is the money?
So what’s the solution? Rethink of all the parts of the park as one again. It has a lot of parts, and they add up to more than the pieces. The Queens Museum of Art, the New York Hall of Science, Shea Stadium, Queens Theatre in the Park, the USTA National Tennis Center, the Queens Wildlife Center and the Queens Botanical Garden are all there. Not to mention the marina, Putt-putt, ice skating and the Unisphere. In winter 2008, a new indoor pool will open. That’s alot of attractions.
But the issue is that each “attraction” in Corona park has more of a local appeal, and the area is run like a big regional park, and not an international attraction. The equity of the World’s Fair has not been tapped.
So what to do? Think of the park as a whole entity again, and not a bunch of pieces. This is easier said than done, as many of the park’s tenants are independent.
- First, commission a new master plan by a noted preservation minded land planning firm that will respect the history of the park, but provide a guideline for its future development within the history of the World’s Fair.
- Find out if there is a way to work with the Bureau of International Expositions to use the World’s Fair name again. While there is no need to have another World’s Fair there and the park cannot just declare itself a World’s Fair if it is not one, perhaps there is some way that the word “World’s Fair” can be inserted into the park’s formal name. Even if the folks in Paris don’t agree (they will, of course), it would be a good reason for Mayor Mike & Co. to write off a trip to Paris and visit Nick Sarko and the new model-wife!
- Hold an Opening Day event each year, where the history of the park is brought alive, and Queens (not just the park) is celebrated. Give all those enthusiasts a place to gather and reminisce about not only the fair, but the history and future of the Borough of Queens.
- Create an indepentent state-chartered park operating authority that can, in an entrepreneurial fashion, recreate some of the pizazz along the lines of Central Park. Perhaps there is one already, and it needs to be strengthened. That authority should look for more leased attractions. It should also improve landscaping. Ensure that it is all painted, and every inch is utilized. Rehang banners and flags. Put the spit and polish of opening day back into the place. Revive and lease restaurants. Encourage companies to invest, and let them promote themselves. The World’s Fair was a sort of parkland Times Square. Let companies do that again. The most important thing about the authority is that it HAS to be able to keep its earnings, and not have them subsidize the rest of the New York parks budget.
- Piggyback on events held in the park now. Thousands of folks come for the attractions that are there. A sense of identity for the whole place will reinvigorate the spirit of the fair every weekend.
- Think of the park as an international attraction, not a neighborhood park. From the day it opened for the first World’s Fair to the filming of Men in Black, the park has been known worldwide as a cool place. Begin to envision Corona World’s Fair Park (or whatever it is to be called) as something as unique as Central Park or Tivoli Gardens.