Once a quiet presence in the background, Diane Disney Miller, daughter of Walt Disney, is expected to move to the helm of the downtown Walt Disney Concert Hall project. The project’s leadership not only plans to accept her offer to use family money to protect the interests of the hall’s architect, Frank O. Gehry, but also is naming her co-chair of a new project oversight board, The Times has learned.
A formal announcement is expected today, according to a spokesman for the project. Miller was not available for comment Tuesday.
Ironically, Miller’s new co-chair is expected to be billionaire businessman Eli Broad, the project’s ad hoc fund-raising chief. In recent weeks, Broad had fought against putting Gehry in charge of completing the design work, citing concerns about cost control and building schedules. He had recommended that unfinished design drawings be turned over to contractors for completion.
The announcement also is expected to name a new oversight board for the proposed home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic across the street from downtown’s Los Angeles Music Center. The members will probably include Mayor Richard Riordan, who in recent months has led fund-raising efforts for the hall with Broad; Music Center Chairwoman Andrea Van de Kamp; Philharmonic board President Robert Attiyeh; developer Robert Maguire; former banker William Siart; former Music Center Chairman Robert Egelston; and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Zev Yaroslavsky as a nonvoting member.
A Disney Hall spokesman confirmed Tuesday that builder M. A. Mortenson will receive a contract to provide pre-construction services alongside the Gehry firm. Over the next six weeks, Mortenson will be asked to work with Gehry on a detailed plan and a firm budget for completion of the working drawings, pre-construction planning of Disney Hall and budgeting a maximum price for construction.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Gehry said he was “optimistic” that his firm would contract to complete the design work, but added: “There are lots of negotiations; we have to hear from the contractors about prices, and arrive at a realistic budget, which we’ll do in the next few days.”
Gehry said that Broad’s target of $220 million as a total cost for the hall--$50 million already spent, plus another $170 million to complete--remains problematic. “That’s the part that’s not clear,” he said. “I don’t have the ability to agree with $170 million, but we’ll try. The number is something that’s on the table, but it’s not something we mutually agree on.”
The agreement would end two months of dispute over who should take control of design and building plans for the Disney Hall, a project instigated in 1987 by a $50-million gift from Walt Disney’s widow and Miller’s mother, Lillian B. Disney. Including additional donations and pledges plus interest, the Disney family has contributed nearly $100 million to date.
The troubled project hit its latest snag in late May, when Broad and Riordan endorsed a “design-build” plan that would have authorized contractors, rather than Gehry, to complete design drawings for the hall. Gehry threatened to withdraw from any further involvement with the project, saying he feared that his unusual, undulating design would be compromised.
Last week, Miller forced the issue by authorizing up to $14 million in Disney family funds already donated to the project to pay Santa Monica’s Frank O. Gehry & Associates to complete design work.
Broad said he was pleased with the new arrangement and that all parties had agreed to completion of the project “as early as possible in the year 2001.”