Thomas F. Liegler, who has run the Anaheim Stadium and Convention Center for the past 20 years as its first and only general manager, was named Thursday to a similar position with the San Diego Convention Center, effective July 1.
Liegler, who was also the first director of operations at the Houston Astrodome, is “the number one convention center manager in the country,” San Diego Mayor Roger Hedgecock said in introducing Liegler, 57, at a news conference in his office.
An Anaheim official said Liegler had resigned from his job and taken the San Diego offer partly because of “abuse” he has taken over the years from the California Angels organization--a claim that Angels officials and Liegler himself disputed.
For the past two years, Angels owner Gene Autry has been engaged in a battle with the City of Anaheim over city plans to build a high-rise building on the stadium parking lot. Autry has a $100-million lawsuit pending against the city because of plans to construct the high-rise.
Bad Table Manners
On opening day, the Angels refused to seat Anaheim Mayor Don Roth at the head table during the traditional opening day luncheon. The Angels also refused to accept a city proclamation wishing the Angels well during the 1985 season. The proclamation also was traditionally presented each year at the opening day luncheon.
Liegler “has been abused by the Angels for years. He was abused long before the lawsuit,” Anaheim City Manager William O. 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 said.
Talley added that Liegler would talk to Anaheim officials next week about his replacement.
Reached at his Anaheim home Thursday night, Liegler said he had received a call from Autry wishing him well. Liegler, who will continue to have a transition period where he will work in San Diego and in Anaheim, said he had not encountered problems dealing with Autry and the Angels organization.
‘A Basic Quality of Life’
“Simply, at my age, I was looking for a basic quality of life,” Liegler said. “I have one more opportunity in my career to be a dreamer, and a builder, and a planner in San Diego.”
Michael M. Schreter, Angels vice president, secretary-treasurer and member of the board of directors, also denied that the Angels 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 had an excellent, excellent working rapport. Mr. Autry has even commented that he, too, is personally sorry to see Tom leave,” Schreter said.
San Diego officials were obviously pleased about luring Liegler to their city.
“This (convention center) board has done an incredible job of searching this nation for the best possible candidate,” Hedgecock said. “They went through the agonizing process of very lengthy interviews and received an incredible number of applications and an incredible quality of applicants.”
Liegler will be “a world-class manager in a world-class facility,” Hedgecock predicted.
Liegler oversaw 100 employees and a $30-million yearly budget 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 more than 20 major convention facilities around the world, including the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans 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, with construction due to start June 1.
Construction of the convention center was approved by a city referendum in November, 1983.
Liegler, who was selected from 157 candidates, will earn $88,000 a year under a three-year contract in San Diego, less than the $96,000 a year he received in Anaheim.
At the news conference in San Diego, the witty, amiable Liegler smoothly fielded press questions.
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.”
As for his willingness to take a pay cut to work in San Diego, Liegler said: “I’ll never be a John D. Rockefeller. Of the items I had discussed with the board, salary was number 15. Just gaining the personal pride of achievement makes it (the job) worthwhile.”
A native of Racine, Wis., Liegler worked for 12 years in the Chicago White Sox organization in various capacities, including a stint as a ballplayer, before becoming director of operations at the Houston Astrodome.
Liegler and his wife, Joyce, have three children, Scott, Terri and Tracy.