Paris to build wooden tower to mark new millennium Other European cities plan projects for occasion

December 22, 1997|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

PARIS -- Home to what may be the world's most famous tower, Paris plans to give itself another -- made from environmentally friendly wood, and looking not at all like Gustave Eiffel's graceful landmark in iron -- to ring in 2000.

With the new millennium approaching, the French capital has entered an undeclared contest with its European neighbors over which city can mark the date in the most sensational, tourist-enticing way. Berlin has scheduled the most dazzling fireworks show in its history, Rome a religious jubilee.

In Britain, plans call for the construction at Greenwich of a vast, flying-saucer-like structure dubbed the Millennium Dome, while in London, the world's biggest Ferris wheel is supposed to be built across from the Houses of Parliament.

As for Paris, its ambition is nothing less than to be "the meeting place of utopias, of new trends and the creation spot for new cultural enterprises," Mayor Jean Tiberi said this month in announcing the city's menu for 2000.

The centerpiece is the so-called Tower of the Earth, 660 feet high, planned for the Left Bank of the Seine in eastern Paris.

The tower is supposed to be shorter than Eiffel's handiwork -- which is 984 feet high, and across town in western Paris -- and to make a dramatic statement on behalf of the environment in the same way that Eiffel's 1887-1989 structure captured his faith and confidence in the Industrial Age.

Designed to be made from beams of Scotch pine covered in oak, and reinforced with steel at the base, the Tower of the Earth is supposed to be topped with five lacy-looking petals.

Halfway up, four platforms built of assorted woods from all over the world are to house observation decks, restaurants and a media center.

There are also a host of other millennium-related activities and projects in the works here.

They include a giant egg descending from the Eiffel Tower on New Year's Eve 1999 as 2,000 drums thunder. On the ground, the shell will break open to reveal hundreds of television screens showing programs from all over the world.

"In this competition, we were behind a month ago," said Yves Mourousi, a former television anchor who is in charge of the Parisian festivities. Now, "we're leading everybody by a length."

There is, however, the ticklish question of who pays for the wooden tower. The price, according to city officials, should be 250 million francs, or about $42 million.

The cost is supposed to be split evenly between big French companies and a public subscription. But so far, no French company has stepped forward, and government leaders are loath to spending public funds.

Pub Date: 12/22/97

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