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Major Donor Cancels $50,000 Pledge : Critics Unhappy With Centennial Progress

March 13, 1988|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — Barely six weeks after its official kickoff, the golden luster of this city's planned eight-month 100th birthday extravaganza is losing its sheen.

One group of disgruntled restaurant owners, several of whom have withheld sponsorship payments worth thousands of dollars, has hired an outside consultant to help elicit promotional support from centennial organizers that they say was promised but has not been forthcoming.

A disillusioned art patron is warning local arts groups not to count on the level of help they anticipate from centennial officials.

And IDM Corp., managing partner in the World Trade Center and a major sponsor that had pledged $50,000 in cash and services to the city celebration, has pulled out of the project altogether. "It's just a business decision," said company spokeswoman Bobbi Coulter, declining to offer a more detailed explanation.

Other sponsors, however, say that IDM's defection is symptomatic of a growing disaffection among centennial sponsors and event organizers that threatens to erupt into open rebellion.

"We felt that we would get a lot more help," said Tim McMillan, general manager of Arnold's, the Williamsburg and the Queen restaurants, which together pledged more than $6,000 to centennial coffers. "I think there were a lot of grand ideas, but no follow-through."

Said Dewey Smith, a centennial board member and manager of community relations for McDonnell Douglas Corp., a major centennial sponsor: "All of us on the board are aware that there are some people who have not been real happy with the way things are going. Perhaps we're not pulling the entire city into it as we had envisioned."

Dick Sargent, president and chief executive officer of International City Celebration Inc., the nonprofit corporation charged with putting on the centennial, says he is trying his best to pull the entire city in. "If somebody knows how to do that, I'd like to know how," Sargent said, adding that he is performing exactly as mandated by the city.

The former vice president of operations for the 1984 Olympics under Peter Ueberroth, Sargent was hired more than a year ago by the board of the city-sanctioned corporation to expand the centennial celebration from a modest 10-day affair to a major marketing extravaganza designed to enhance the city's existing businesses and attract new ones.

In 12 months he was able to increase the centennial budget from $15,000 in the bank to about $1.8 million in cash and in contributed goods and services, Sargent said. Those include complimentary airline seats, advertising commitments, hotel rooms, printing and design services and office supplies. About $200,000 came directly from the city, Sargent said, with the rest--$600,000 in cash and $1 million in goods and services--donated or pledged by the event's 130 corporate sponsors.

What isn't clear to some sponsors and event organizers is exactly how those resources are being allocated.

For instance, Lindsay Shields, executive director of the Public Corp. for the Arts, wanted to put on a centennial festival that would be remembered for years to come. So, encouraged by Sargent's promise to help her attract 50,000 spectators, Shields said, she developed a plan for a 10-day summer arts festival that would transform the downtown promenade into a Tivoli Gardens-style fantasy land, the likes of which had never been seen on the West Coast.

The only problem was the estimated $460,000 price tag. After the centennial committee kicked in $5,000 in cash and services for development of the initial plan, Shields said, Sargent presented her with a list of potential corporate investors. Their unanimous response was that they had no money to contribute because they'd already donated it to International City Celebration Inc. So instead of an extravaganza, she says, the city may have to settle for a more modest July festival featuring local volunteer talent performing under Christmas tree lights instead of elaborate sculptures and processionals under huge festooned banners.

"It was simply beyond our capability," Sargent said. "We don't have the money."

While only 28% of the centennial's overall income goes for administrative costs, he said, the bulk of the cash on hand goes to pay those expenses. The remaining support, Sargent said, is mostly in the form of in-kind goods and services committed to promoting centennial events.

But event organizers have not always been pleased with the form those promotions have taken. Carla Gordon, acting general manager of the Long Beach Ballet, for instance, tells of the centennial's promotion of the ballet company's recent production of "An Ode to Elvis," which was dubbed the centennial's first official arts event.

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