9-Month Extravaganza Is Only Days Away : Long Beach Puts Best Face and Logo Forward for Centennial

Times Staff Writer

The logo is stylish.

Drawn abstractly, it depicts the curvy modern outline of a luxury ocean liner--perhaps the Queen Mary--starkly silhouetted against the backdrop of a dark-inked city. Beyond the ship, two white sailboats cut through an ocean of glassy yellow. And surrounding the scene, a bright red border draws one's eyes inexorably toward what seems to be a crisp view of urban life by a sea filled with fun.

The image started showing up about seven months ago, mostly on the sides of Long Beach buses. Gradually it spread, creeping onto the windows of businesses and the walls of area supermarkets. Today it is everywhere: on restaurant menus, business cards, newspaper mastheads, napkins, coffee mugs, posters, commemorative pins, T-shirts, watches, visors, aprons, sweaters and flags.

It is the logo of the Long Beach Centennial. And beginning next weekend, it will become even more visible as the city officially kicks off a celebration of its 100-year-old incorporation. It is to be a nine-month extravaganza that Adweek magazine recently dubbed "a marketing feast for a destination starving for an identity."

Original Idea Modest

Indeed, it was not always going to be a feast. Back in 1985 when a group of local business people first formed International City Celebration Inc., a private nonprofit corporation aimed at putting on the celebration, the idea was to mount a fairly modest event of a week to 10 days' duration. Then, Joseph Prevratil, president of Wrather Port Properties and one of the corporation's founders, asked Peter Ueberroth, president of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, for the name of someone to head the Long Beach effort. Enter Dick Sargent, who had been vice president of operations under Ueberroth. A longtime resident, Sargent had a few ideas of his own.

"While (business) organizations might be inclined to donate a dollar to a short-term celebration," Sargent says he told the corporation's board, "they'd be more inclined to invest $10 in a program of long-term benefits."

Thus the centennial was born. Sargent, 53, was named president and chief executive officer of International City Celebration at a salary of $108,000 a year. His plan was adopted wholeheartedly by the board. And a campaign was begun to enlist the support of businesses by appealing to their economic self-interest, as well as their sense of civic pride.

"Long Beach is still perceived as a sleepy little town," Sargent said. "Our desire is to use the centennial as a focus to try to tell regionally, nationally and internationally what Long Beach really is."

What Long Beach really is, he says, is a city in the midst of an economic boom with lots of office space for new mid-size businesses, a climate and location conducive to tourism and a host of hotels and restaurants eager to serve. In other words, a city with plenty of money to be made by existing businesses willing to promote its growth.

Apparently the pitch worked. In the year since Sargent's arrival, the centennial corporation has seen its budget increase from $15,000 in the bank to $1.8 million in cash and contributed goods and services. Those include complimentary airline seats, advertising commitments, hotel rooms, printing and design services and office supplies. About $200,000 came directly from the city, Sargent said, with the rest--$800,000 in cash and $1 million in goods and services--donated by the event's 130 corporate sponsors.

Those sponsors fall into three categories. "Major" donors include companies--such as IDM, Anheuser-Busch, ARCO Transportation Service and McDonnell Douglas--which have contributed $50,000 or more.

For $25,000, several companies became "exclusive" sponsors, meaning their goods or services are not duplicated by others in the same category. Among these are the Grand Prix Assn. of Long Beach, Memorial Medical Center, Ralphs Grocery Co., Century 21-Action!, Shoreline Village and Los Angeles radio station KBIG.

Somewhat smaller donors formed the "group" category whose contributions ranged from $22,000 from the Hyatt Regency Hotel, to $525 from Maison de France, a small French restaurant downtown. (The Long Beach Press-Telegram is a major sponsor, with a $100,000 contribution; the Los Angeles Times is a group sponsor, with a $10,000 contribution.)

In return for their contributions, the businesses get the sanctioned use of the centennial logo, widespread mention in the event's considerable publicity blitz and participation in something loosely referred to by those involved as networking.

"Networking is important to most businesses," said Fortune Pritchard, co-owner of Flowers by Vickie, which has pledged $5,000 worth of floral services to the centennial celebration. "People see your work and see your name and you've sold yourself."

Explained Jean Louis Hlavaty, owner of Maison de France, which has been in business for only 14 months: "This gives us access. It opens doors to all the official events and gives us a way of marketing our business to a wide range of people. It was an ideal way to get connected with city officials. Our goal is to become a prominent restaurant in Long Beach and Greater Los Angeles."

Sargent says that only about 28% of his budget goes for administrative costs, including his own salary and those of his eight full-time staffers. The rest, he says, is being spent on promotional efforts. Those include broadcast and print advertising all over the world, as well as goods and services necessary to enhance the various centennial events.

Scheduled Anyway

Most of those events are things that would be happening whether or not there was a centennial. Included on the calendar--which has several listings for each of the next nine months--are regular performances of the city's ballet, opera and light opera companies, as well as the Long Beach Symphony; long-scheduled exhibitions at the Long Beach Museum of Art and the University Art Museum; an annual sea festival and carnival; the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, and the annual observance of Cinco de Mayo.

By focusing on existing events, Sargent says, he accomplishes two things. First, he keeps down overhead and contributes to local culture. And second, he promulgates the message that Long Beach is an interesting place that is host to worthy events all the time, thus fulfilling his promise to sponsors to enhance the city's image and bring more people to town.

Several local agencies have come forward to help in this mission. The Long Beach Area Convention and Visitors Council recently sent out 2,200 press releases to travel, business and feature journalists worldwide suggesting various angles on the centennial story.

"We're using the centennial as a public relations program," said Terri Villa-McDowell, public relations director for the city-sponsored council which, in addition to the mailings, recently hired firms in Phoenix and New York to help "get the message about Long Beach out using the centennial as a hook."

The Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce is planning to issue centennial discount coupons to be honored by area retailers in a major promotion of the event.

And the Seabreeze, a monthly newspaper published by the Downtown Long Beach Associates, plans to devote almost every cover from now through October to some aspect of the centennial celebration. "We've got to fill those offices and hotel rooms," said Sargent, referring to office space that has nearly tripled citywide in the last 10 years and hotel rooms that are expected by 1992 to have doubled in number from 1984.

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