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Plumbers Union Shuts the Konocti Harbor Resort and Spa

Greg Bennett,  the GM for 20 Years, Recalls the
 Northern California Resorts Legacy

By Mandy Feder, Lake County Record Bee, Lakeport, Calif.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

November 11, 2009 - KELSEYVILLE - The doors are shut to a rock 'n' roll institution in Lake County.

Konocti Harbor Resort & Spa is officially closed.

"There's a finality about today," Greg Bennett, general manager and CEO said. "There's no epilogue, no encore. It's a very sad and difficult day to go through.

"It's way more than a job to our staff, it's a family." Bennett says the employees treated the place as though they were part of it, like owners. Right up to the end, everyone showed up for their shifts, he said. "They showed up, just like in the heyday with the same hopeful pride."

Bennett is humble about his own accomplishments, but compliments the staff at every level, repeatedly.

Bennett has spent the last 20 years at the resort building a legacy on the lake.

"It's my home. It's my life," he said.

He raised three children here. All three worked at the resort.

He considers the property a big family environment.

"We've always hired family members of employees. We all have strong family beliefs," he said. "These are good people with a tremendous sense of loyalty, not to mention high skill sets."

The owners of Konocti Harbor Resort & Spa, Local 38, the United Association of Plumbers, Pipefitters and Journeymen, announced the resorts' closure Sept. 8.

<>In 2004, the U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit against Local 38 alleging that trustees violated federal law by diverting more than $36 million from retirement, health, scholarship, apprenticeship and vacation/holiday funds to renovate and operate Konocti Harbor Resort & Spa. Local 38 settled a lawsuit in 2007, saying the union will repay trust funds with the sale of the resort.

When Bennett arrived at Konocti Harbor Resort & Spa at 32 years old, about 20 years ago, it was a very different type of property. There was no outdoor amphitheater. The chunk of land where thousands of world-famous acts have appeared was then a softball field. He laughed and said it was "butt-high in weeds and grass."

There were three security guards, one six-passenger trolley golf cart and an old station wagon to transport guests. Now there is a 30-plus vehicle fleet.

A little bar could seat a maximum of 80 patrons. The showroom was small and there was no balcony.

The restaurant that evolved into a hip rock 'n' roll cafe was initially called "The Olive Tree Cafe." Bennett said at the beginning there were three boats and five wave-runners. The marina fleet grew to more than 40 vessels.

The Joe Mazzola Indoor Showroom grew from 300 seats to 600 and then to 1,000 seats. An outdoor venue was built that seated approximately 5,500 patrons. The first show at the outdoor venue in 1994 was "Nickelodeon, Wild and Crazy Kids." Bennett said it featured "kids getting slimed."

After that, the venue grew up and showcased thousands of huge names in music. The resort also became a mecca for sports lovers, with everything from fishing to football. Bennett said Summerfest events were always a favorite too, with sand poured into the parking lot and music playing everywhere all weekend, day and night.

"Once Sha-Na-Na did a free concert in the parking lot," he said. There were concerts on the sternwheeler, the "Konocti Princess" for many years.

He recalls shutting down a section of Clearlake by Austin Park to have a beach party. "We set up a stage in the middle of the lake. It was crazy. It was great."

Bennett said he knew the Pepsi Celebrity Golf Shootout solidified a sense of legitimacy when Joe Montana confirmed his attendance.

Though Bennett says there are too many great times and too many great shows to name a favorite, he says that getting Aerosmith and KISS at the venue was pretty special.

Bennett said he and the staff wanted to carry on Joe Mazzola's vision of creating a great venue for great shows.

"It is the 50th anniversary of the Local 38, the United Association of Plumbers, Pipefitters and Journeymen ownership," he said. He credits Mazzola and the union graciously.

More than 100,000 people hold Konocti Harbor Resort & Spa Star cards and more than 75,000 received electronic e-mail blasts. "Major market radio stations don't have those numbers," he said.

Bennett said he is happy he came to California. He grew up in Wisconsin, where he majored in business in college. He worked diligently in the hospitality industry and became a general manager by age 22. He successfully managed many properties including resorts in Vail, Jackson Hole and Alaska, winning numerous awards. The last property before Konocti Harbor was in Ventura. Bennett has spent the majority of his career in Lake County. He says he loves it here.

"This is the last page of the last chapter, and then it's on to a new book," Bennett said.

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To see more of the Lake County Record Bee or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.record-bee.com/.

Copyright (c) 2009, Lake County Record Bee, Lakeport, Calif.

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