Party like it's 1999

Three wide-eyed promoters and the almighty A.H. Belo Corp. plan to boldly carry Big D and the rest of the world into the new millennium

It is 5:15 p.m. on May 7 in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and ninety-eight.XOrdinarily, it would be quitting time for the hardworking denizens of Big D. But this Thursday is no ordinary weekday, and this moment is more than just the beginning of the evening traffic jam.

Inside the marbled elegance of the Hall of State on the grounds of Fair Park, a crowd of unsuspecting Dallasites has gathered to hear an announcement that historians will record as the beginning of mankind's journey to "The Turn."

Complimentary Chardonnay flows while a sturdy chef carves a honey ham into dainty pieces. Dallas politicians mingle with a select crowd of local boosters.

An actor dressed as Sam Houston appears and, for just a spell, time seems to slip back to 1836 when the great statesman secured Texas' independence from Mexico. Eleanor Roosevelt is here, too, her presence a reminder of the 1936 Texas Centennial--the historic exhibition that lifted Dallas out of the Depression and introduced the city to the world as a modern metropolis.

The crowd falls silent as Jeremy L. Halbreich, president and general manager of The Dallas Morning News, takes the podium. The daily already claims the title of "Texas' Leading Newspaper," but as Halbreich begins his speech, it becomes clear that the News has its heart set on becoming the Leading Newspaper of the Millennium.

The information Halbreich shares is profound: On the eve of a new millennium, a California dreamer and the marketing department of the News have learned that the face of the future is human--and human beings will prevail in the year 2000 and beyond.

More importantly, Dallas, Texas, U.S.A., will lead the country and hopefully the world into those long-awaited, much-anticipated 1,000 years during a 40-day event at Fair Park called "The Turn: America at the Millennium."

"Dallas has always been known as a city of dreamers and doers," Halbreich says. "This event is no exception."

Between Thanksgiving weekend 1999 and January 1, 2000, Halbreich says, a million people are expected to flock to Fair Park for an event billed as "the last great exhibition of the 20th century."

Under the marketing direction of the News and its parent company, A.H. Belo Corp., soon-to-be-named corporations will unite as sponsors of the $30 million, privately funded event that will make Dallas the destination place for millennium thrill seekers across the country and around the globe.

To prove he's not kidding about the money part, Halbreich turns over the podium to the man Dallas' corporate giants trust when it comes to spending tax dollars: His Highness himself, the Honorable Mayor Ron Kirk.

"If there is any city ready for the 21st Century," Kirk says, "I think it's our own."

What is especially appealing about the event, Kirk emphasizes, is that it will be funded privately. "No city tax dollars will be spent," he says.

In the background, Halbreich nods. He and his army of reporters have just helped Kirk gain victory at the polls and secure the construction of a new arena and a revamped Trinity River--two projects that Kirk says demonstrate how Dallas has already made its "Turn." Now, Kirk is here to help Halbreich make his Turn.

Kirk hands over the podium to Jeffrey Kaplan, the California promoter who dreamed up The Turn. Most Dallasites don't know Kaplan, but the sales team at the News does. Every year, Kaplan's production company produces The Dallas Morning News' Skifest and World Golf Expo.

Dressed in a loose suit reminiscent of the one David Byrne wore in Stop Making Sense, the 35-year-old Kaplan glances at a script, steps away from the podium, and begins detailing the highlights of The Turn.

"Through a feat of engineering," Kaplan says, The Turn will install a 10-story dome that encloses an area inside Fair Park the size of five football fields. In addition, three colossal geodesic balls will be erected on the grounds and filled with enough educational and entertainment goodies to please kids and parents alike.

"Just as the Hubbell space telescope has become a window to the universe that enables us to look forward and backward across time," Kaplan says, "The Turn will be a window that lets us look across a thousand years to see the past and the possible."

Those items will be temporary, he cautions, but there will be one permanent addition to Fair Park--an addition that, much like the star in the story of Christ's birth, will guide people from around the world to Dallas.

A second hush falls over the crowd.
In 1936, Kaplan recalls, a great bank of 40 lights illuminated the Hall of State during the 1936 Texas Centennial like a fluorescent crown. As part of its sponsorship of the event, Kaplan says, the News will recreate those lights--all 40 of them--not just for The Turn, but for all time. The gift, Kaplan says, will forever be known as "The Dallas Morning News Legacy of Lights."

Actors portraying Louis Armstrong and Mexican artist Frida Kahlo join Kaplan, Sam Houston, and Eleanor Roosevelt. The Lincoln High School Choir, gathered in front of the podium, inches closer.

The message behind this carefully orchestrated reception is becoming clear: In all of the world, there is no better place to welcome the future by celebrating the past than inside the historic Fair Park. What city but Dallas--the big city in the big state of Texas that big men built with nothing but sheer grit--is better suited to host the beginning of tomorrow?

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