Snafu 2000

Page 6 of 8

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!!!"

Gutier rejected the deal.

Besides APS, the only other corporation definitely contributing as a sponsor is Hensley & Company, which controls the Budweiser distributorship. Not surprisingly, Budweiser will be the official Celebration 2000 beer. The Hensley contribution isn't finalized, but is expected to be worth around $30,000.

Negotiations are continuing with Wells Fargo over a potential sponsorship of one stage. The potential deal is estimated to be worth around $40,000.

With corporate sponsorship scarce, operational funds have become so tight that Jerry Colangelo's Team Shops agreed to renegotiate an exclusive contract to sell hats, tee shirts and sweat shirts bearing the official Celebration 2000 logo. The Team Shops late last month agreed to advance $50,000 to Citizens for a Community Celebration to pay for the production of the millennium gear.

Details of the agreement with the Team Shops have not been released, although city records indicate the Team Shops will earn about a 3 percent markup on the deal and recoup its $50,000 advance.

"They are not losing money, but they are not making a lot either," says city parks official Michael Whiting.

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John Dougherty
Contact: John Dougherty