Disney Concert Hall nears funding goal

Times Staff Writer

Seven months from the scheduled opening of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the hall's managers say they're nearing the finish line in their marathon fund-raising campaign. County officials, meanwhile, have just set off on a $14.5-million sprint to upgrade the street and sidewalks around the Grand Avenue building.

Music Center officials, who will operate the hall and have been raising funds for it since the project's birth in 1987, said their latest tallies show the hall, exclusive of the REDCAT performance space, which is being funded by CalArts, will cost $272 million.

As of now, $262 million has been raised, leaving $10 million to go.

Begun with a $50-million gift from Walt Disney's widow, Lillian B. Disney, and designed as a shimmering series of curving stainless-steel planes by Frank O. Gehry, the hall has advanced in fits and starts over 15 years as cost estimates have climbed and the California economy and local civic resolve have risen and fallen.

Richard Owens, vice president of advancement for the Music Center, said the campaign has been energized by $4 million in donations and pledges in the first two months of 2003, including "a major, not-yet-announced gift from a private foundation and continued generosity on the part of the Blue Ribbon and the Fraternity of Friends," the center's long-standing philanthropic support organizations.

The Disney Hall dedication is scheduled for Oct. 23.

Meanwhile, in a downtown tidy-up gesture that will pit contractors against a ticking clock, the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to spend $14.5 million for street and landscaping improvements to Grand Avenue in the run-up to the Disney Hall opening.

The improvements, which include realigning the avenue, widening sidewalks and adding landscaping, seating and lighting between Temple and 2nd streets, are intended to make Grand Avenue more pedestrian-friendly.The pre-opening beautification work was first expected to take eight months, but county officials said the project has been rearranged so that areas near the concert hall can be completed by the end of September.

"It's going to be quite a challenge, but we've looked at all the issues. Everybody's confident that we can make it," said Lyn Wallensak, principal analyst for the county chief administrative officer.

Wary of delays that could foul up the concert hall opening, officials have been uncertain about how much work to attempt between now and October.

Although plans for the upgrades have been in the works since October, the project was delayed in December when the state Transportation Commission, daunted by the escalating estimates of the statewide budget shortfall, delayed a vote that would have released $9.5 million for the project.

Meanwhile, the estimated cost of the work has climbed. County staffers originally estimated the cost of the work at $6.5 million to $8.9 million last October.

After reexamining fund sources, the Transportation Commission voted to release $4.8 million last Thursday, Wallensak said, and county officials found a way to combine that with $4.7 million in federal funds to meet their anticipated budget.

The project also relies on $4.1 million from the Music Center (including $2 million from an anonymous gift received in December), $466,000 from the MTA and $431,000 from other sources.

The county's contractor, Griffith Co., is expected to begin work in late March.

Disney Hall will serve as home to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale, leaving other Music Center resident companies to make fuller use of the complex's three existing indoor venues, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Ahmanson Theatre and the Mark Taper Forum.

The Disney Hall cost estimates exclude the facility's second indoor venue, the $21-million Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT). The space, with its own entrance at 2nd and Hope streets, will seat up to 266.

CalArts spokesman Walter Zooi said the school has raised more than $15 million so far, and hopes to cover the remaining $6 million by October.

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