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Arts Executives Skeptical About Fund-Raising for New Concert Hall

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The announcement this week of plans to raise $100 million for a new concert hall next to the Performing Arts Center met with some skepticism Friday by local arts executives, who wondered if it can be done.

“I just don’t see it,” said Dean Corey, executive director of the Philharmonic Society of Orange County. “I just don’t know where $100 million is going to come from. That’s an astounding amount of money.”

Mark Chapin Johnson, chairman of the Orange County Performing Arts Center, said Thursday that Henry Segerstrom, co-managing partner of C.J. Segerstrom & Sons, has agreed “in principle” to donate a seven-acre parcel at Town Center Drive and Avenue of the Arts for the new concert hall and possibly an art museum.

He acknowledged Friday that the fund-raising effort to build it “will be different from the last,” referring to the hard-won $72.3 million raised over several decades to build the 12-year-old arts center.

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“The entire community must be involved,” he said, “corporations, individuals, foundations, trusts and regional arts organizations. Something this big has to be ecumenical.”

Evidence of the challenge ahead lies less than 45 miles away at the empty site of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, where groundbreaking was scheduled to begin in 1992. The finished hall was to open in 1997.

Disney’s widow, Lillian B. Disney, launched that project with a pledge of $50 million. The anticipated price tag: $110 million.

Yet even with additional gifts from the Disney family, now totaling $100 million, it took millions more in recent donations from major corporations to ensure construction of the hall, now scheduled to be completed in 2001 at a cost of $255 million.

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The question is whether suburban Orange County can do what metropolitan Los Angeles has had such a hard time doing.

“If you’re raising $100 million, you’re going to need about $20 million to get the capital campaign started,” Corey said. “Traditionally, you need a lead gift of 20%. And generally that lead gift comes from one entity. You don’t always have to do it that way. But certainly you would need to start with a gift of at least $10 million.”

The lead gift is generally a “naming gift.” The Performing Arts Center’s main auditorium is called Segerstrom Hall because the Segerstrom family got the center rolling with a gift of more than $10 million in land and cash.

“Clearly, people who would give that much money would enjoy the visibility,” Johnson said. “Otherwise, why would they want to attract that much attention?”

In any case, a relatively small number of donors--individuals, corporations, trusts and charitable foundations--traditionally give about two-thirds of the capital costs for such projects. County arts executives often claim that about a dozen contributors account for most of the money raised to build the center.

But Johnson says he intends to model his fund-raising approach on that of Eli Broad, the Los Angeles businessman who stepped up to the plate when Disney Hall looked as if it would never be built.

“Broad has been a genius in bringing the corporate community in L.A. to support the performing arts,” Johnson said.

Johnson, himself a multimillionaire businessman, points out that Broad’s work exemplifies “what is being done across the country when it comes to a $100-million project or more.”

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But other local arts leaders echoed Corey’s skepticism. They said, however, that they did not want to criticize an effort before it has begun.

Johnson said raising that amount may prove easier than they might think.

“The business community knows it’s in its own best interest to have a vibrant and attractive arts center,” he said. “It’s a major quality-of-life issue that attracts and retains good employees.”

With new national and international corporate headquarters coming to the Irvine Spectrum, Johnson sees good pickings. Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln Mercury division, for example, arrives this summer from Detroit.

“The county has changed dramatically from 10 years ago,” Johnson said. “It has grown so much, not only in population but in scope and expectations, that [the new hall] is going to happen.”


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