KNOXVILLE, Tenn.(WVLT)--It was looked upon as Knoxville's biggest challenge.
Transform an old railroad yard, foundry and depot into a world's fair.
The city's cost, 46 million and many skeptics. The most hurtful, the Wall Street Journal, calling Knoxville the "scruffy little city by the river".
Local 8 News' Walter Lambert was Vice President of the event.
"It was going to be disruptive, you were not going to be able to go anywhere, have all these things and didn't have clue as to what a world's fair was about."
Local banker Jake Butcher led the way as the driving force, Bo Roberts was the Executive Director.
A year after the fair closed, Butcher's bank failed with an ensuing scandal sending him to jail.
Despite its detractors, people came, 87,000 the first day. 387,000 for the first week. .
Bill Schmidt told Local 8 News, "It was just the reality, how could this small city of a couple hundred thousand people put on a world class exhibit?' And we did. We did."
Everything from rides to exhibits gave visitors insight into 22 cultures from all over the world, with the center piece a golden sphere with the theme of energy.
President Ronald Reagan gave it a thumbs up. Knoxville Mayor Randy Tyree called it a defining moment in the history of the city.
Former UT athlete, Bill Schmidt had the job as Director of Sports.
"We were able to generate from no budget, a surplus of $300,000, and the fair put it up in fireworks. Literally, they spent it on fireworks. It was fun. It was a blast"
The fair also took care of Knoxville's infamous I-40 gridlock.
Lambert said, "That in an of itself was worth doing, all those worries about traffic just didn't materialize they rebuilt malfunction!"
Now, thirty years later the site is now called World's Fair Park.
The amphitheater is still there, the foundry still stands, as does the iconic Sunsphere soon to be transformed into a nightclub. Even the Rubik's cube is still around.
All continue to stand as monuments of a time when this "scruffy little city" had something to prove to the world.
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