Snafu 2000

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

DeSantis says Johnston told her that it was too late to make changes.

"He said, basically, that we were committed."

Johnston says he never implied that the contracts wouldn't be consummated unless accompanied by a deposit.

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"The contract is not validated with the money. The contract is validated when they make an offer," he says.

Johnston says he was shocked that the CCC and the city wanted to renege after Woods had signed the contracts.

"The time to change your mind is before you make the deals," he says.

Nevertheless, Woods, on behalf the of CCC, and with the urging of the city, unilaterally canceled a number of the acts. The agent for three of the acts that were canceled responded angrily.

"We have a very serious situation," Berkeley Reinhold, an attorney for the William Morris Agency, wrote in a September 15 letter to Mayor Rimsza.

William Morris represented the Harry James Orchestra, John Mills, and the Modernaires, which were slated to play on a stage celebrating the '40s. Woods had signed a contract on August 16 committing CCC to pay the three acts a total of $100,000.

"We trust that you and the City of Phoenix do not support this capricious decision made by the CCC to cancel this confirmed engagement . . ." Reinhold's letter stated.

For the next month, city parks officials scrambled to fend off a public-relations disaster. The city eventually reached an agreement with the Phoenix Civic Plaza to host the William Morris acts. CCC is contributing $75,000 of the $100,000 fee, even though the act will be outside the area fenced for the CCC celebration. A private promoter is covering the rest of the fee.

Several other acts that were canceled have landed at the Arizona Center, also outside the CCC perimeter. Once again, the CCC is financially exposed, paying for half of the $23,500 fee for Rose Royce, and Denny Terrio & Motion but collecting none of the proceeds.

The city hoped to keep the contract cancellation fiasco quiet, even after New Times began making inquiries in early November.

City parks official Michael Whiting wanted to steer all press calls to Jim Gath, the public-relations executive with the Motta Company, which is handling CCC promotion.

Whiting encouraged other city officials to allow Gath to handle calls, hinting in a November 8 e-mail that the paper might be easily controlled since "New Times is one of their [Motta Company] clients."

Whiting's e-mail stated that Gath will "handle this very well . . . keeping the city out of the mix."

Citizens for a Community Celebration chief fundraiser Charlie Thompson had been unsuccessful at generating donations other than from his company, Arizona Public Service, which had agreed to kick in $80,000 to sponsor a children's area to be set up on Heritage Square.

Apparently frustrated, Thompson turned over his fund-raising leads to Mayor Rimsza in early October, telling city officials in an e-mail that "we have very little corporate support."

City parks liaison DeSantis urged Thompson to continue his fund-raising efforts. "It is vital that you continue to pursue sponsorships," she wrote Thompson in an October 21 e-mail.

Rimsza's fund-raising efforts also met a cool reception from corporations, which already had been besieged with funding requests -- particularly from the Valley of the Sun United Way, which was breaking previous fund-raising goals by more than $5 million, according to CCC vice chairman Bill Shover.

Shover says the New Year's Eve celebration doesn't resonate well with many corporations, which prefer to make contributions to more traditional nonprofit organizations.

"It doesn't have the appeal of a St. Vincent de Paul," Shover says. "There are a lot of charities that need money for the homeless and for kids."

By late October, city parks official Michael Whiting was in regular contact with city manager Frank Fairbanks over the lack of corporate sponsorship for Celebration 2000. The outlook was bleak and getting worse.

In an e-mail to Woods, Whiting described an October 28 conversation with Fairbanks when he told the city manager that fund raising would likely be less than $200,000, a fraction of the $1.5 million original estimate.

"I said our best hope is advertising and prayer!!!" Whiting's e-mail to Woods stated. "He agreed. Can we schedule a priest for the next meeting!! You think I [sic] kidding??"

As Valley corporations turned a cold shoulder to the CCC, fund-raising efforts turned toward the state, the Arizona Lottery in particular. The CCC asked the lottery for about $30,000 to underwrite the cost of the equipment for the final countdown stage.

Public-relations contact Jim Gath encouraged DeSantis to pressure lottery official Alberto Gutier to sign up -- especially after CNN had indicated it was planning to focus on Phoenix in its nonstop worldwide New Year's Eve coverage.

Gath used some frothy language to encourage DeSantis to press hard on Gutier.

"Hell, the price of this deal ought to double by the end of this coming week," he wrote DeSantis in an October 24 e-mail pep talk. "Act now! Don't' delay! Alberto -- don't let yourself be caught crying in your lukewarm, flat beer, while sitting in some loser bar at midnight of the new millennium. Be front and center. Live large!

"Be a hero to all those shmucks who throw their hard-earned sheckels at a loser's dream! Stand up and take a bow, my man. Do it for the greater good of the Great State of Arizona!!!! Be the MILLENNIUM MAN!!!"

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