Stockton Show Forces Sack

Neil Diamond introduced California’s new Stockton Arena in style January 15th, but it came at a price. The exact figure was $396,650 in taxpayer money, resulting in the termination of City Manager Mark Lewis at a closed-door city council meeting two nights later.

Lewis was considered the architect of the show, bringing Diamond to the inauguration of the 10,000-seat arena.

It appears Lewis and/or city officials made a series of rookie promoter mistakes. First, the disclosure of the $1 million guarantee caused some hearts to jump in the city. Diamond had finished his tour, and this was a one-off special appearance.

Then, after tickets went on sale in the $76 to $165 range, a batch of low-end seats were offered up for $22.75, and the price difference upset some original ticket-holders.

Some questioned city officials’ wisdom in bringing Diamond to Stockton because he visited the market radius in September, playing Sacramento’s ARCO Arena at cheaper ticket prices.

Simple math shows that city officials could not expect to make up their guarantee with a show alone, and probably relied on a pre-concert benefit gala that had tables for 10 ranging from $5,000 to $10,000. Yet, sales for the bene were reportedly sluggish.

Officials said local reports on all of these issues hurt ticket sales. Then they started changing their tune about the profitability of the event. At first the concert and gala would be moneymaking fund-raisers for the Stockton Parks and Recreation Foundation. Then officials said the concert might not be profitable, the city’s Record newspaper said.

In reporting the Lewis dismissal, The Record said the former city manager had established a history of aggressively pushing revitalization projects for the town but also acting in secret and alienating both colleagues and local media.

“Mark Lewis was the tale of two city managers: He was the best we ever had and he was the worst we ever had,” Councilman Clem Lee told the paper.

Former Mayor Gary Podesto, who hired Lewis, said the amount of Diamond’s guarantee was no secret among councilmembers, claiming several of them knew about it before the amount was disclosed to the public.

“It isn’t true when they said they didn’t know,” Podesta told the paper. “I think the council knew they were going to do this way before last week.”

Lewis was instrumental in building the Stockton Arena and adjacent Bob Hope Theatre, as well as a minor league baseball stadium. But he earned his share of criticism for those projects as well.

He reportedly moved $875,000 from city coffers to a restaurant project without notifying the city council, which approved the expenditure after the fact.

In 2004, Lewis and his soon-to-be wife, Stockton Asparagus Festival Executive Director Kate Post, caused a local stir dubbed “olivegate” when they were involved in a barroom brawl. The two were asked to leave the bar after Post refused to stop plucking olives from a tray of garnishes, according to the Record. Lewis was arrested on a misdemeanor charge for resisting arrest. He submitted to counseling in exchange for having the charge dropped.

Deborah Speer