Lasting Legend

The legacy of the 1984 Louisiana’s World Fair
Image provided courtesy of the New Orleans Public Library.
Riverwalk’s Grand Opening was a five-day affair|!!| starting on Thursday|!!| August 28|!!| 1986. A parade on Canal Street kicked off the first day|!!| followed by a dedication and musical salute. An afternoon riverboat parade was followed by a performance by Allen Toussaint and fireworks over the Mississippi River. Daily concerts|!!| demonstrations|!!| and fireworks continued until Monday. Toussaint is on the left of this photo|!!| standing next to Mayor Ernest Morial.

For all its artistic and entertainment successes, the 1984 Louisiana World’s Fair was an economic failure. Disappointing attendance caused over $120 million in losses, with many participating businesses failing and lawsuits that continued for more than five years.

That doesn’t mean the Fair didn’t find success with one of its initial and most important objectives: Increasing tourism to New Orleans. It helped secure extra money to enlarge the Convention Center and to hurry the completion of new hotel rooms. The failure of the Fair to keep those rooms occupied taught New Orleans hoteliers the importance of marketing and sparked the creation of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp.

Another side effect of the Fair was the revitalization of the Warehouse District and the Riverfront. Preparation for the Fair included over $25 million in infrastructure repairs to streets, lights and drainage. Historic but fragile buildings in the Warehouse District received much needed preservation work. The Federal Fibre Mills, which served as a beer garden during the Fair, was converted to apartments and is credited for beginning the trend into renovating the area for residency. Julia Street’s revitalization into an area brimming with art galleries is also attributed to work started during the Fair.

The Riverfront was opened to the public in a new way during the Fair, especially with the International Pavilion, which was built specifically to become the Riverwalk shopping mall after the Fair ended. Ron Forman of the Audubon Institute cited the good memories the public had from those riverfront experiences in helping to raise funds to develop Woldenberg Park and build the Aquarium.

While the Fair may not have been directly responsible for the revitalization of downtown areas, it is cited as the impetus to the increased tourism, renovation and return to residential usage that continues today. 
 

Note: This is last part of a yearlong focus on the 1984 Louisiana World’s Fair.