The Sunsphere, in Knoxville, Tennessee, is an 81.07 m (266 ft) high hexagonal steel truss structure, topped with a 23 m (75 ft) gold-colored glass sphere that served as the symbol of the 1982 World's Fair. Designed by the Knoxville architectural firm Community Tectonics, the Sunsphere was created as the theme structure for the 1982 World's Fair. It was noted for its unique design in several engineering publications. Most of the World's Fair site is now a public park and a convention center, but the Sunsphere remains. In its original design, the sphere portion was to have had a diameter of 86.5 feet (26.4 m) to represent symbolically the 865,000-mile (1,392,000 km) diameter sun. The tower's window glass panels are layered in 24-karat gold dust and cut to seven different shapes. It weighs 600 tons and features six double steel truss columns in supporting the seven-story sphere. The tower has a volume of 203,689 cubic feet (5,767.8 m 3) and a surface of 16,742 square feet (1,555.4 m 2). During the fair it cost $2 to take the elevator to its observation deck. The tower served as a restaurant and featured food items such as the Sunburger and a rum and fruit juice cocktail called the Sunburst. In the early morning hours on May 12, 1982, a shot was fired from outside the fair site and shattered one of the sphere's windows. No one was ever arrested for the incident. The Sunsphere has been used as a symbol for Knoxville, appearing in postcards and logos. Between 1993 and 1999, the Sunsphere was featured in part on the logo for the Knoxville Smokies minor league baseball club. The 2002 AAU Junior Olympics mascot Spherit took its inspiration from the landmark. It featured red hair and a body shaped like the Sunsphere. In October 1987, the sphere was illuminated to represent a huge jack-o-lantern. On Sunday, May 15, 2000, nuclear weapons protesters scaled the tower and hung a large banner that said "Stop the Bombs." They remained on the tower for three days before surrendering to police.

Although the Sunsphere is the most recognized feature of the Knoxville cityscape, it has remained vacant or underutilized for most of its post-fair life. Various proposals have been submitted to the city from time to time for its redevelopment. Many argue its relevancy as a tall structure, because it was built in one of the lowest parts of the city.

In March 1991 officials from the Pensacola Tornados of the Continental Basketball Association were looking at Knoxville for possible location and said of the Sunsphere as potential office space, "What better place for basketball offices than a giant gold basketball in the sky."

A pair of failed proposals was presented to the World's Fair Park Development Committee on March 31, 1994, that sought to reopen the Sunsphere as a restaurant (similar to Dallas' Reunion Tower, which features a restaurant at the top of the tower). The proposal from CEB Enterprises would have opened a casual dining restaurant called World's Fare Restaurant. The proposal from Cierra Restaurant Group would have opened a fine dining restaurant.

The Sunsphere is proposed to be included as part of the newly constructed Knoxville Convention Center. While not actually incorporated into the final design, the Convention Center does have an open curve along its north edge to give way to the Sunsphere. Despite this nod to its status as a Knoxville icon, during construction of the Convention Center, the observation deck, which had been briefly reopened by the city (still sporting the original World's Fair-era displays and explanations of the panorama), was closed while the tower was commandeered by the Knoxville Public Building Authority as offices for, quite literally, overseeing the construction of the Convention Center. The Convention Center was completed in 2001.

Kinsey Probasco Hays of Chattanooga propose reopening the tower complete with a renovated restaurant, snack bar, office space and a public observation deck.

25 years after the Fair, the Level 4 (Fair Observation Level) was reopened July 5th, 2007 to give visitors a view of Knoxville. Level 5 (Private Dining Room & Kitchen) will now become a new cafe with sandwich and drinks service and an early evening drinks service. Level 6 (Main Restaurant Level) will be an open space leased out for functions. Both Levels 5 and 6 are being managed by Southern Graces Catering and Events. Level 7 (Upper Restaurant level) & Level 8 (Mountain View Observation Level) will become the offices for the Knoxville magazine Metro Pulse . The observation deck can hold 86 people. On August 31, 2007 a local couple, Wayne and Laura Freeman, were married on the observation deck. They were joined by a handful of family members, as well as the local news. Their story aired on WBIR's Live at Five, & in the Knoxville News Sentinel

On August 27, 2008 the 5th floor was opened as the SkyBox bar and lounge. It has since closed, and now business offices are on the 5th, 7th, and 8th floors.

Sunsphere in popular culture
  • The rockabilly band Jason D. Williams and the Scorchers performed on top of the Sunsphere on Memorial Day 1990 as a part of Knoxville's holiday celebration and to film a promotional video for Tennessee Illustrated Magazine. The resulting video appeared on MTV and Entertainment Tonight, and the stunt made front page news across the state.
  • A March 1996 episode of The Simpsons , 3F17 (" Bart on the Road"), features the Sunsphere. Bart and three friends travel to Knoxville and find that the Sunsphere has become a dilapidated storage warehouse for a wig store, known as "The Wigsphere". Nelson Muntz then topples the Sunsphere after he throws a rock at it in anger.


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