Snafu 2000

Phoenix officials told volunteers planning an expensive millennial downtown bash to think big. It seems as though nobody was thinking at all.

Phoenix's inaugural effort to host a downtown New Year's Eve event stands in sharp contrast to Tempe's 15-year-old Fiesta Bowl Block Party -- a street festival that easily attracts more than 100,000 people.

With years of success under its belt, and a major college football game serving as an attraction for tens of thousands of out-of-town fans, Tempe has the luxury of a deep-pocket corporate sponsor. Tostitos has sponsored the block party the past four years, bearing all the risk for the event. The company oversees the production and guarantees Tempe that all city expenses such as police, fire and cleanup, will be covered. Phoenix, with no corporate sponsor, bears all the risk, has fronted nearly all the money and is covering all the city ancillary costs, estimated at at least $100,000.

The financial pressure is building on CCC as the Y2K countdown quickens. The nonprofit faces a $400,000 bill on December 29 to cover entertainment and production expenses. As of November 24, it had only $36,000 in the bank. Organizers hope corporate sponsorships and advance ticket sales at $10 a head (plus a $2.50 service fee, children under 12 free) will allow them to cover their obligations.

If not, the volunteer committee will have to float a loan and hope revenue from the big night will cover expenses.

Money aside, Phoenix is making a bold attempt to focus the community's attention downtown with a celebration that will rival the parade and rally for the Phoenix Suns after the team's appearance in the NBA finals in 1993, and the historic visit of Pope John Paul II in the 1980s.

Celebration 2000 revelers will pay $15 at the gate on December 31 to enter a fenced area bounded by Jefferson, Van Buren and Third streets, and Third Avenue. Bands will play on three stages scattered throughout the party zone, which will feature beer gardens and a variety of food vendors.

The Celebration 2000 party will culminate with a $90,000, 25-minute fireworks display of unprecedented grandeur. The extended and colorful big bang -- which originally was planned to be even more elaborate but got whacked in budget cuts -- will be telecast worldwide by several networks, since Phoenix is the only major city in the Rocky Mountain time zone hosting such an extravaganza.

"We feel we are going to knock them dead with the show," says Shover.


Planning for the New Year's Eve party began in September 1997, when Mayor Rimsza created a city subcommittee called Celebration 2000.

Grant Woods was named chairman of Celebration 2000 in May 1998, while he was still attorney general. Rimsza made it clear he wanted the committee to think big. He wanted to use the New Year's Eve event as another prop in Phoenix's perpetual drive to be recognized as a "world-class city."

Woods told committee members that Rimsza's vision was, "The bigger and more spectacular the better."

While Rimsza and the Celebration 2000 committee were thinking big, the rest of the city council was thinking small. After more than a year of committee meetings where little was accomplished, Rimsza convinced the city council in December 1998 to award the Celebration 2000 committee $25,000 in seed money to secure equipment and entertainment.

The funds would not go far, especially in the face of unprecedented price-gouging by everyone from entertainers to stagehands who recognized that the laws of supply and demand were converging in their favor. Last spring, millennium fever was at its height, and it was a seller's market. The Celebration 2000 Committee believed it was under tremendous pressure to quickly cut deals or face the possibility of being left out in the cold.

Moving quickly, however, was not something the committee could legally do. Since it was created by the mayor and city council, the committee was required to abide by the state's Open Meetings Law and follow cumbersome city procurement regulations. The committee wanted to get around the sticky rules and decided the best way to do that was to form a nonprofit: Citizens for a Community Celebration Incorporated.

The CCC, composed of the same members as the Celebration 2000 Committee, signed a contract with the city on July 7 to organize and fund the New Year's Eve celebration. With the contract in hand, the city council approved a $500,000 loan to the CCC to help pay for New Year's Eve expenses and dissolved the Celebration 2000 Committee. The city didn't completely cut loose the money. Instead, every expenditure is subject to review by the city's parks department.

The city now had what it thought was the best of both worlds. The CCC could cut deals quickly with whomever it wished and avoid public scrutiny. The parks department, meanwhile, would serve as a monitor and control the checkbook.

"We set this up to avoid the nightmare of public bidding and to allow flexibility in purchasing and meeting," city parks central district director Michael Whiting stated in a July 7 e-mail obtained under the state Public Records Law. "The only role the City has is to watch that the 500K is spent wisely and is paid back."

Prior to the city's recognition of the CCC on July 7, the Celebration 2000 Committee was still subject to the city's procurement regulations and Open Meetings Law. Throughout the first half of the year, the committee continued to post advance notice of its meetings and followed the Open Meetings Law.

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