YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Arts Centers: Comparing Costs In L.a. And Calgary

September 29, 1985|DAVID JOHNSTON

CALGARY, Canada — From Nova Scotia to the Yukon Territory, Canadians recently watched the grand opening of the Calgary Centre for the Performing Arts via a four-hour live broadcast.

But the TV signals didn't reach Bunker Hill in Los Angeles, where the issues surrounding the Calgary Centre are probably of greater significance than anywhere else outside Southern Alberta.

Calgary Centre--an austere complex consisting of a music hall and two theaters with a total of 3,000 seats that its architect said cost the equivalent $70 million U.S.--illustrates how expensive performing arts complexes have become.

In addition, Calgary Centre provides a comparable model to examine the Music Center expansion plans because they, too, call for a music hall and two theaters. Further, the cost of erecting identical masonry buildings in Calgary and Los Angeles is the same, according to Marshall Valuation Index, the most widely used construction industry guide for comparing cost estimates in different cities.

The proposed Music Center expansion wouldn't, of course, be identical to Calgary Centre. The Music Center expansion would have 73% more seats and it would require vast underground parking that Calgary Centre lacks. And to mesh even modestly with the grandeur of the existing Music Center complex, it would require costly appointments that Calgary Centre does without.

But despite differences in size and style, Calgary Centre provides the best available new facility to examine as a rough indicator of what the Music Center's plans would cost.

When the Performing Arts Council, the Music Center's umbrella fund-raising organization, proposed in May, 1982, to build a music hall and two theaters with a total of 5,200 seats, it put the price at $40 million.

One year ago, Michael Newton, the Performing Arts Council president, increased the estimate to $50 million.

But the Calgary Centre experience suggests that the Music Center expansion would be far more costly than anyone has imagined, or at least publicly acknowledged.

The new 1,220-seat Los Angeles Theatre Center cost just $16 million, but it has extreme economies, such as bare concrete walls. It also did not require the expensive orchestral hall acoustics. Even so--and assuming costs move up evenly with the increased number of seats--building such a facility with 5,200 seats is estimated to cost $68 million.

Current cost estimates for the 4,000-seat Orange County Performing Arts Center--under construction--also suggest cost underestimates. The 3,000-seat multipurpose hall for music, ballet, theater and dance and a 1,000-seat theater are currently budgeted at $65.5 million, but upward revisions for the Costa Mesa facilities--sans parking garage--are expected soon, a spokesman said.

Asked about Newton's $50-million estimate, Martha Cohen, the Calgary Centre board chairwoman, said:

"No way could you do that now. If we had tried to build the whole Dorothy Chandler complex (including the Ahmanson and Taper theaters) with the fountains and chandeliers and all, it would have cost at least $100 million."

Indeed, examination of the Calgary Centre, interviews with its fund-raisers, architect and various consultants and with theater experts in Los Angeles indicates that building the proposed Music Center expansion would probably exceed $150 million.

Some, but by no means all, Music Center leaders favor expansion because the existing theaters--the 3,197-seat Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the 2,071-seat Ahmanson Theatre and the 752-seat Mark Taper Forum--are booked to near capacity.

Demand for time in the Pavilion is so tight, with the current tenants desiring 70 weeks of performing time in a 52-week year, that the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which wants to expand its Pavilion schedule, must cut back from 26 weeks at the Pavilion to 25 starting in 1987.

This year, the Civic Light Opera cut its 18-week Pavilion schedule by one week to allow more time for the Joffrey Ballet, and in 1986 it will give up another week, this one to the Music Center Opera Assn. (The Civic Light Opera also pulled out of the Ahmanson Theatre, moving to the Pantages in Hollywood, but for reasons unrelated to scheduling.)

The original expansion plans called for a 3,200-seat theater for the Civic Light Opera, Joffrey Ballet and opera, a 1,500-seat proscenium theater for a repertory company and a 500-seat experimental "black box" theater.

Donations would finance the project; no tax dollars would be used, Music Center officials said. This announcement stirred deep concern among many of the 19,000 other charitable organizations in the county that a Music Center capital campaign will make it harder to raise money at a time when government support of charities is tightening.

Los Angeles Times Articles