Monday, July 09, 2007

Here comes the sun

What a view!

Next time you find yourself in downtown Knoxville, take a few minutes and ride the elevator up to the observation deck of the Sunsphere. It's something.

First time I went up there, I was about 4 years old. All I remember is watching a video about the making of the Sunsphere, and how the sun's energy can be used to make power. (The 1982 World's Fair, after all, was an energy exposition.) I held my dad's hand while we rode the elevator.

The last time I was up there, I guess I was about 6 or 7 or so. It was when they put a restaurant up there. A guy Mom was dating at the time took us. Pretty cool.

Give Bill Haslam credit. He took what had previous been known as the Wigsphere (thanks, "Simpsons") and turned it into a fun attraction. In addition to the 360 degree view, the observation deck also boasts kiosks celebrating various aspects of Knoxville history, as well as a continuous video of highlights from the fair.

Nick Frantz, my West Side counterpart, and I stopped by the Sunsphere during lunch after a meeting today downtown. I felt like a kid again.

Up on the screen was Jake Butcher, 25 years younger, celebrating the fair's success on its closing day. I stood there thinking that the next morning (Nov. 1, 1982), Butcher's banking empire collapsed.

What's funny is nobody, and I mean NOBODY, thought the so-called "scruffy little river city" could pull it off. Heck, folks on our own city council were betting against the fair.

But, somehow, it all worked. Knoxville had one hell of a party for six months. We got to keep the Sunsphere, the Holiday Inn, the amphitheater and, for a time, the U.S. Pavilion, not to mention a lifetime worth of memories. The '82 Expo remains the last world's fair (I think) to show a profit.

Haslam gets big time props for making the Sunsphere reopening happen. The big sphere stood vacant for more than a decade. Typical of the Victor Ashe malaise of the period, you couldn't even go up in the city's most visable landmark.

All that's changed. The best part is Mayor Billy used money from the sale of the Candy Factory to pay for the Sunsphere renovation. NO TAX DOLLARS were used at all. Now that's leadership!

Here's hoping the Sunsphere reopening is the beginning of better days for Knoxville. It never should have taken this long.

But let's not complain too loud. Cas just might bust out of his grave and yell those immortal words,

"I'm a'gin it!"

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