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Gordon Linden: Bay Area's last Expo was in San Francisco, it's next might be in Oakland.

Bechtel Group is poised to take a leading role in plans for the 2001 Pan Pacific Exposition in Oakland, rolling out its experienced world's fairs consulting team as it lays the groundwork to build the $600 million project.

The San Francisco engineering giant's current role is limited to a $137,000 feasibility study it is conducting in conjunction with two other consultants, under the auspices of the Bay Area Pan Pacific Exposition Inc. The city and port of Oakland expect to sign that contract this week. But exposition organizers are eager to tap into Bechtel's experience in putting together three of the last four summer Olympic Games, two current world's fairs and London's planned Millennium Exposition.

"Bechtel is probably the pre-eminent engineering firm in the world in world's fairs," said Art Blum, president of Pan Pacific. "It's fortunate they're in San Francisco." If the project is deemed feasible, it could bring in an estimated $9OO million directly, and generate another $900 million for Bay Area hotels, restaurants and other tourism related industries.

Bechtel's partners on the initial study will be Korve Transportation and the Economic Research Associates, which are working under the Bay Area Pan Pacific umbrella.

Gaining its current level of political support is the furthest the project has gotten in its two-and-a-half years of speculation, Blum said. The same team had proposed and studied a similar project for San Francisco's Treasure Island during Mayor Frank Jordan's term, raising $100,000 in private to do so. That project ultimately foundered in San Francisco's political waters.

"We have a contract that should be signed this week," Blum said. "That's a step we never got from San Francisco, and here the Port and Oakland are putting up the money for it."

Despite previous city promises that no city money would go to the project, the Oakland City Council gave it the green light April 30, and pledged to pay for half the study. The Port of Oakland is expected to sign on to the other half by Friday.

The study will examine the economic, environmental and social impact of the project, which is planned for the Oakland estuary, just East of Jack London Square, and minutes from the Lake Merritt BART station. It will also create an action plan for the fair and gauge its international support, which Blum said was favorable during Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris' recent trade mission to Asia.

Bechtel is best known for massive infrastructure projects like the Hoover Dam, Boston's $6 billion central tunnel and Hong Kong's $21 billion airport. But the group has been consulting on world's fairs and similar projects, including the Los Angeles, Barcelona and Atlanta Olympics, for about a 15 years. Bechtel project manager Gordon Linden, who is heading this project, said its actual work on those can range from project management to acting as an objective advisor when governments are faced with delays or cost overruns from local firms.

There are about a dozen such projects in the works now worldwide, including proposed falrs in Hong Kong and Manila in the year 2000, the London Millennium Exposition and Lisbon's World's Fair next year, the latter two of which involve Bechtel. The group also covers theme parks, on which 100 staff might work at a given time, scaling back its normally massive railroad projects to the entertainment level.

"It's really just an application of what we do best, in a different context," Linden said. "It's a lot of fun, but there's the same discipline of management - how do you turn it into a reality, and how do you pay for it and how do you do it all in those faraway places?"