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‘I want to wear out, not rust out’ : Anaheim’s Liegler: Ready for a Change

Times Staff Writer

For years, Thomas F. Liegler has worn his job on his chest.

It is a small pin that Liegler, the outgoing general manager of Anaheim Stadium, the Anaheim Convention Center and two city golf courses, sticks in his lapel. The pin is a simple symbol of the four facilities he has overseen for nearly 20 years, the so-called “Family Foresome.”

But he forgot to wear that pin Monday morning.

Occurring as it did just a few days after he accepted the job as executive vice president and general manager of the planned San Diego Convention Center, the small oversight is symbolic of big changes ahead for Liegler and the enormous void left for the City of Anaheim.

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The city will be hard-pressed to replace the man generally credited with turning Anaheim Stadium and the Anaheim Convention Center into the nation’s busiest facilities of their kind. What’s more, he leaves behind something few cities can boast--four city-owned facilities that are projected to return nearly $1 million to the city’s coffers this year, after payment of debt service.

The city has already begun a nationwide talent search for Liegler’s replacement. But it may take up to four months before the job is filled, said William O. Talley, Anaheim city manager. Meanwhile, Liegler will assume his new post July 1, although he plans to spend portions of June in both San Diego and Anaheim.

Neither Talley nor Liegler would speculate on a replacement.

But numerous options are already being considered. Among them is one that would restructure the operations of the four city facilities. Under that scenario, which Talley stressed was only one option among many, separate managers could be named for the convention center, stadium and golf courses. “There may not be another person in the U.S. with the combined convention center and sports stadium experience of Tom Liegler,” Talley explained.

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Present Managers

Incumbent operations managers, who would be among those being considered, are Ed Stotereau (stadium), Bill Turner (convention center) and Don Marshall (golf courses).

The city may also consider hiring a consultant to assess the situation, Talley said. Talley is scheduled to meet with the Anaheim City Council today to discuss Liegler’s unexpected depature.

There are many theories about why Liegler is leaving Anaheim. One is that Liegler grew increasingly disgruntled trying to manage four facilities at once. Another is that Liegler’s ego was no longer being sufficiently stroked by Anaheim city officials and residents who grew accustomed to city facilities that--unlike those at most other cities--kept showing a profit .

Yet another scenario is that Liegler simply grew tired of the bickering between the city and the California Angels over the proposed development in the Big A’s parking lot. And a final theory is that the job offer in San Diego--the nation’s eighth largest city--was simply too good to pass up. When the $125-million project is completed in 1987, it is expected to be among the world’s foremost convention facilities.

When pressed, Liegler admits there is some truth to all four theories.

Too Many Hats?

But key among them is that in his four-pronged position in Anaheim, one man was doing the work of two, three or even four. It is unusual for a single city official to oversee four such diverse facilities that serve up to 5 million visitors annually.

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“I want to wear out, not rust out,” Liegler, 57, said in an interview in his Anaheim Stadium office. His face, tanned from a vacation in Oregon, could not conceal the strains of the job he is leaving or the big decision he has just made.

“The role I now play requires six- and seven-day workweeks,” he said. “Over time, you become less tolerant of the long hours and all the service requirements involved with four facilities.”

On a typical Monday morning, he arrives at the office with a plethora of phone calls waiting from all of the facilities. Stadium headaches include everything from traffic snarls to cold hot dogs. Golf course problems range from grass maintenance to overcrowded fairways. But gripes from convention center tenants were consistently few.

Constant Needs

Liegler reasons that convention center occupants are only visiting for a few days, so their expectations are lower. But longer-term tenants, such as the Angels and Rams at the stadium, have constant needs and continually higher expectations, he said.

“Now I’ll have the chance to concentrate my efforts on a single facility instead of four,” he said. During his first year in San Diego, he will help stamp the design of the new structure much as he did here in Anaheim. Then, he will oversee construction for two years and manage operations for the following four years. Liegler said he plans to retire at the end of his eighth year in San Diego.

Liegler said he has signed a three-year contract for the new post that will pay him $88,000 the first year, about $6,000 more than his present salary in Anaheim. The 740,000-square-foot San Diego facility will be more than 50,000 square feet larger than the Anaheim center and have ample room for expansion. His early plans for the center include luring Pacific Rim business from such countries as Japan, China and Korea that might want to hold U.S. trade shows.

Convention industry experts say the planned San Diego Convention Center will certainly steal business away from the somewhat dated Anaheim facility. But Liegler insists that despite their close proximity, the two facilities will both thrive “much like the Angels and Dodgers do.”

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‘Right Up His Alley’

William Snyder, president of the Anaheim Area Visitor and Convention Bureau, has booked conventions for Liegler’s facilities for nearly 10 years. “What he (Liegler) will be doing in San Diego is right up his alley. It’s really the designing and building that he enjoys,” Snyder said.

Liegler’s wife, Joyce, said that she and her husband had long discussed retiring to San Diego. Also, they now have a daughter attending San Diego State. “But I also think the move is ego-building,” she said, noting that her husband thrives on his accomplishments, which include bringing the Los Angeles Rams to Anaheim Stadium in 1980 and the 1984 Olympic wrestling competition to the convention center.

“The ego needs enrichment,” Liegler said, in agreement with his wife. “Life is too short to be little.”

Not that his ego hasn’t been bruised. Liegler admits to four key disappointments over his years in Anaheim, all of which relate to the Big A.

The most recent was the collapse of an apparent agreement for the Jacksons to complete their Victory Tour in Anaheim. When the tour was lengthened by nearly two months, Anaheim Stadium operators had to back out of the handshake agreement because of previous commitments to the Angels and Rams.

Olympics Disappointment

Last summer, the Big A also came up empty when the Olympics came to Los Angeles. Anaheim Stadium was supposed to host a number of preliminary soccer matches but the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee opted to hold them in other locations, including some on the East Coast.

Anaheim Stadium was among the first stadiums in the country to host a rock concert when the Who performed here in 1970. But Liegler said he was discouraged by widespread media coverage of drug-related arrests at the concert.

Another Big A event that Liegler would like to forget is the 1976 Freedom Train debacle, when unruly crowds caused mayhem and injuries while trying to board railroad cars filled with national artifacts.

But his accomplishments far outnumber his disappointments, and San Diego officials were well aware of that when they selected him last week from among 157 candidates. Liegler was the first director of operations at the Houston Astrodome, and he has done consulting work for both the Seattle Kingdome and the Louisiana Superdome.

“I abhor the past, I contend with the present and I look with gusto to the future,” Liegler said. " This project in San Diego gives me gusto.”


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