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Convention Center Hires Anaheim’s Stadium Boss

Times Staff Writers

The director of the Anaheim Stadium and Convention Center for the last 20 years has been picked to run the San Diego Convention Center beginning in July.

Tom Liegler, also the first director of operations at the Houston Astrodome, is “the No. 1 convention center manager in the country,” Mayor Roger Hedgecock said in introducing Liegler, 57.

Liegler will be “a world-class manager in a world-class facility,” Hedgecock predicted.

“This (convention center) board has done an incredible job of searching this nation for the best possible candidate,” the mayor continued. “They went through the agonizing process of very lengthy interviews and received an incredible number of applications and an incredible quality of applicants.”

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Liegler, with a $30-million yearly budget, had 100 people working for him as general manager of the Anaheim facility. He took over the job in 1965 and since then has designed the 26,000-seat addition to the stadium. He also designed and supervised the construction of the Anaheim Convention Center.

In addition, he has served as project consultant to over 20 major convention facilities around the world, including the Louisiana Superdome and the Seattle Kingdome, and other facilities in Seattle, Anchorage, Baltimore, Oakland, San Jose and Sydney, Australia.

James J. Granby, board chairman of the Convention Center Corp., said that Liegler “right now runs the largest convention center in California, the largest west of Las Vegas. We’re very lucky to have someone of Tom Liegler’s quality with us.”

The convention center should open by late 1987, Granby said. The ground-breaking is scheduled for May 22, to be followed by construction beginning June 1.

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Construction of the convention center was approved by a city referendum in November, 1983.

Liegler’s immediate task will be to oversee the construction of, and planning for, the convention center pending its scheduled completion in the winter of 1987.

Liegler, who was selected from among 157 candidates, will earn $88,000 a year under a three-year contract in San Diego, down from the $96,000 a year that he received in Anaheim.

At a press conference at the mayor’s office, the witty, amiable Liegler fielded reporters’ questions smoothly.

He started by quoting Yogi Berra --"Before I talk, there’s something I want to say"--and concluded with a passage from Cicero: “May the care of the people be the supreme law.”

“We will serve the citizens of San Diego extremely well,” Liegler vowed. “We will provide the very best services humanly possible to all our tenants, exhibitors and certainly all of our guests . . . One of our goals will be to rise above the herd in public assembly facilities.”

Of his willingness to take a pay cut to work in San Diego, Liegler said: “I’ll never be a John D. Rockefeller.” He said his pay was No. 15 on his priority list. “Just gaining the personal pride of achievement makes it worthwhile.”

Anaheim City Manager William O. Talley said Thursday that Liegler resigned from his job partly because of “abuse” he has taken over the years from the California Angels baseball club.

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For the past two years, Angels owner Gene Autry has been engaged in a battle with the City of Anaheim over the city’s plan to built a high-rise development building on the stadium parking lot. Autry currently has a $100-million lawsuit pending against the city because of plans to build the high-rise.

The Angels refused to seat Anaheim Mayor Don Roth at the head table during this year’s traditional opening day luncheon. The Angels also refused to accept the traditional city proclamation wishing the Angels well during the 1985 season. Liegler “has been abused by the Angels for years. He was abused long before the lawsuit,” Talley said. “He has taken constant verbal harassment from the Angels. We (city officials) have been subjected to abuse to the point where our attorneys have asked us why we took the abuse.”

“That was one of the reasons he resigned. But I think he (Liegler) also felt in his mind that he took the right job at the right time,” Talley continued.

Talley added that Liegler would talk to Anaheim officials next week about his replacement.

Liegler could not be reached late Thursday for comment on Talley’s remarks.

Michael M. Schreter, Angels vice president, secretary-treasurer and member of the board of directors, denied the Angels had abused Liegler.

“The Angels have had an excellent working relationship with Tom Liegler over the years,” Schreter said. “We’re very, very sorry to see him go. And we are even sorrier that the city manager (Talley) wants to make a public relations stint of (Liegler’s resignation). It’s disappointing and unprofessional.

“Tom Liegler and the Angels have an excellent, excellent working rapport. Mr. Autry has even commented that he, too, is personally sorry to see Tom leave,” Schreter said.

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