His Way of 'Personally Thanking the City' Where He Got His Start : Developer Pledges $250,000 Gift Toward Torrance Cultural Complex

Times Staff Writer

In what Torrance officials believe is the largest cash gift ever presented to the city, a developer has agreed to donate $250,000 to help build a long-awaited civic center cultural complex.

Developer Frank Torino has signed a commitment to give the money for an amphitheater planned as part of the $12-million project. Construction on the complex, which will be operated by the city's Parks and Recreation Department, is scheduled to start this summer.

"It is the most significant cash contribution the city has received in its history," said Gene Barnett, director of the parks department. "We hope it marks the first of many" contributions by others.

Torino, 64, heads Torrance-based Torino Industries and Torino Construction Corp. The companies employ about 400 people and are active locally, as well as in Arizona and Nevada, in commercial and residential real estate development.

A company spokeswoman said that during the three decades Torino has been in business, his companies have developed more than 2,500 residential units and more than 750,000 square feet of commercial space in Torrance. The firm recently completed a 179-unit condominium complex in San Pedro.

Torino, who lives in Rolling Hills, said through the spokeswoman that he has decided to donate the money because he and his family have benefited from the city. He also said that he believes the city needs a cultural center.

The spokeswoman said Torino "has had a good relationship" with Torrance. "This is his way to personally thank the city," she said.

Mayor Katy Geissert said Torino contacted her three or four months ago to inquire about the city's "cultural needs." The conversation turned to the planned arts complex and, later, to the small amphitheater that will connect an existing recreation center and a new 500-seat theater. The latter is regarded as the centerpiece of the new complex, which will be built just west of City Hall.

"Generally, his attitude was that he got his start in Torrance as a builder, and the city had been good to him," Geissert said.

Geissert said she will soon recommend to council members that they vote to name the amphitheater after Torino.

The amphitheater would have been built without Torino's donation. Most of the money to build the complex was raised by issuing bonds that will be repaid from the city's general revenues.

However, Torino's donation will help if the city runs into construction cost overruns. The donated funds also could be used to purchase amenities for the new buildings, Barnett said.

The cultural complex is the culmination of a city study completed nearly 20 years ago, which indicated that the city's recreational and cultural facilities are inadequate. The study stated that demand by residents for athletic, musical and theatrical events could not be accommodated in the city's existing facilities.

"We continually get requests from groups and we have to turn them away," Barnett said.

Besides the theater and the amphitheater, the complex will include about 30,000 square feet of classrooms, a 5,280-square-foot community meeting hall and additions to an existing community hall and recreation center. A Japanese garden and new parking facilities also will be built.

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