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O.C. Center Moves Ahead With Plans for 2 Theaters

Times Staff Writer

With the Orange County Performing Arts Center operating near capacity 2 years ahead of projections, the Center board Thursday moved ahead with plans to add at least two new theaters at an estimated cost of up to $92 million.

The proposal includes a concert hall of 2,300 to 2,500 seats--designed in part to head off any competition for popular Broadway road shows--and a drama theater of 650 to 800 seats, possibly to be shared with neighboring South Coast Repertory Company.

Together with SCR’s two existing stages, the resulting complex of five stages and nearly 8,000 seats would rank in size between the Lincoln Center-Juilliard complex in New York City--the nation’s largest--and the Kennedy Center in Washington.

Like the $70-million Center, the additional theaters would be privately funded if possible, officials said.

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“Both a concert hall and a small hall are justifiable in the next decade, subject, of course, to the one caveat that we can afford to proceed and the determination of a prudent timetable,” said Center Chairman Henry T. Segerstrom in a statement relayed by Center President Thomas R. Kendrick.

The board’s decision to proceed with plans to expand the Center was partially based on a $50,000, 8-month marketing study. After voting to accept and approve the study, members authorized management to do feasibility studies on site selection, design, parking and funding for the two theaters plus a possible third, mid-size facility of 1,200 to 1,500 seats.

The most pressing need is to proceed with the concert hall to preempt construction of another major theater in the area for such popular attractions as national companies of Broadway shows, Kendrick said.

“There is only so much touring product,” he said.

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The concert hall, used by the Pacific Symphony and for single-performance musical events, would free Segerstrom Hall for popular shows. The hall, he said, would be “essentially a shoe box,” designed solely for music and dance events without elaborate sets.

Site Search Gets Priority

In a news conference after the board meeting, Kendrick said the board’s first priority would be to find a site for the concert hall. It has ruled out any remote site for new facilities.

The board earlier had announced its intention to build a second theater for such programs as chamber music recitals and dramatic performances. One location considered for this smaller theater is land adjoining the Center now used for staff parking. That site, the study found, is too small to accommodate either the concert hall or a mid-size theater.

Kendrick said the small theater, estimated to cost $10 million to $12 million, would not necessarily be built on the current parking area. It is possible that both the small theater and the concert hall could be built on a new site, he said.

Undeveloped land within walking distance of the Center is scarce and at a premium. Some of this land is owned by the firm of C.J. Segerstrom & Sons. The Segerstrom family donated the land for the Center.

The new theater study, prepared by Harrison Price Co. of Torrance and released Thursday, found that the Center’s 3,000-seat Segerstrom Hall was in use--not necessarily for performances--on 364 days from September, 1987, to August, 1988. During that season 686,500 tickets, or 77% of capacity, were sold, a figure well over the national average, according to the study.

“There can be no expansion of program without the addition of a new professional facility,” the study concluded. “The best way to relieve pressure on Segerstrom (Hall) is to construct a concert hall” at a cost estimated between $60 million and $80 million, the study says, adding that “a lesser quality concert hall . . . could be built for as low as $40 million to $45 million.”

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The study coupled these figures with county population projections of 2.7 million by the year 2000 as another factor in recommending long-term expansion of the Center.

“To maintain the same ratio of population attending performing arts events as is currently being achieved, the county must increase both the level of programming and the number of theater seats,” the study said.

The maximum estimated cost for constructing all three new theaters was $119 million.

The third theater would rely on the new, San Diego-based Pacific Lyric Theater, according to the study, along with Opera Pacific and the Fullerton Civic Light Opera. Because the Pacific Lyric Theater is, in the words of the study, “a new and untested group,” it recommends that “further consideration of this theater be deferred.”

According to Los Angeles arts consultant David Lutz, the Center should have no difficulty raising money for the new theaters, “if this were a phased project over a 10-year period.” Center officials “certainly seem to have figured out what appeals to potential donors,” said Lutz, who has worked for Orange County arts organizations.

Lutz also does not see any problems of competition from other new and expanding theaters elsewhere in the county.

“Audiences in Orange County do not seem to travel from one part of the county to another, with the exception of (going to) the Center,” he said.

For the study, Harrison Price commissioned Hebert Research Inc., to conduct two random telephone surveys on programming preferences in the area: one of 600 Orange County residents and another of 200 Center subscribers.

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The two surveys found that “overall satisfaction with the Center is quite high,” with respondents in the random survey giving the Center an 8.6 rating on a scale of 10, and subscribers rating it at 9.

Those in the general category prefer, in order, Broadway musicals, plays and opera at the Center. Center subscribers said they preferred opera to plays.

In two subsequent “focus groups,” composed of volunteers from the Center’s subscribers, “members expressed a desire for a more intimate venue to house smaller-scale presentations than those now staged at the Center” and for more children’s programming.

The study also took note of at least one recent development on the theater scene elsewhere in the county.

While observing that “there are no large new theaters planned in Orange County for major productions,” the study acknowledged the 750-seat, $17.9-million Irvine Theatre now under construction on the UC Irvine campus.

Orange County Performing Arts Center

Three Proposed Facilities

1. A concert hall of 2,300 to 2,500 seats, costing $60 million to $80 million. “A lesser quality concert hall. . .could be built for as low as $40 million to $45 million.” Designed solely for music and dance events without elaborate sets. Such a facility most likely would be used by the Pacific Symphony and dor single-performance musical events.

2. A drama theater of 650 to 800 might share with neighboring South Coast Repertory Co. One of the locations considered for this smaller theater is land adjoining the Center that is now used for staff parking.

3. A third, mid-size theater facility with 1,200 to 1,500 seats, which would rely on the new, San Diego-based Pacific Lyric Theater, along with Opera Pacific and the Fullerton Civic Light Opera.


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