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After $31 Million, Puerto Rico Unloads Fair Pavilion For $4 Million

July 15, 1993 GMT

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ After spending $31 million to build and run its Expo ’92 pavilion, Puerto Rico has received $4 million for the grandiose project that came to symbolize the U.S. commonwealth’s bloated government.

″Nobody had wanted to buy this white elephant that (former Gov. Rafael) Hernandez Colon left us,″ said Pedro Figueroa Costa, a representative in the island’s congress for the governing statehood party, which trounced Hernandez Colon’s pro-commonwealth party in November elections.

The new administration is trying to trim the size of Puerto Rico’s government, which employs more than one-quarter of the island’s labor force. The government also is seeking to unload the state-run shipping line, Navieras, pledging to pick up the company’s $325 million debt to sell it off.

Financial accountability has been stressed by the new government, which kicked off a campaign this month to make Puerto Rico the 51st state. The futuristic three-building pavilion in Seville, Spain, which featured a circular glass-and-steel theater, became a budget-buster.

Puerto Rico sold off the world’s fair pavilion to Spain’s postal service to use as a training center, Juan Woodroffe, head of state Puerto Rico Investment Development Company, announced Wednesday.

Woodroffe, who spent months trying to get rid of the pavilion, said Puerto Rico was ″lucky″ to get $4 million.

″This was my No. 1 headache since I arrived in this job,″ he said in an interview. ″At least we have been saved the expense of knocking it down.″

The building cost $11 million to build; administrative costs, including the ferrying of government officials to the site, added another $20 million, he said. An audit of project costs showed every item - from design to the production of a 15-minute film - ran over budget, and state-run companies were tapped to pay for the rising expenses.

Government officials said they found the pavilion had not encouraged any businesses to invest in Puerto Rico, which has a per capita income half that of Mississippi, the poorest state in the United States. ″It (the pavilion) was a goodwill thing, but there was no benefit that I can attribute (to it),″ Woodroffe said.

The pavilion, which dwarfed the entry by the United States, was one of several large-scale projects started by Hernandez Colon to emphasize Puerto Rico’s culture and connections with Latin America, Spain and the rest of Europe.

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He changed the face of Old San Juan by building new projects focusing on its Spanish colonial architecture and heritage, and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars hosting a regatta that marked the quincentennial of Christopher Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas.

Hernandez Colon was in Spain on Wednesday and could not be reached for comment, said a son, Juan Eugenio Hernandez Mayoral.

In recent months there were doubts Puerto Rico could even sell the pavilion, as noted in March by the weekly Caribbean Business in a front-page article entitled ″Sale of the Century:″

″If it were funny, the joke might go like this: ’What was supposed to cost $10 million, actually cost $30 million, can’t be sold for $4 million - and brought next to nothing to the island,″ the article said.