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Downtown Dance Gallery Takes Step Nearer Reality

February 25, 1988|LEWIS SEGAL | Times Dance Writer

With the signing Wednesday of an agreement between the Dance Gallery, the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles and Bunker Hill Associates, Bella Lewitzky's dream of building "a nurturing place for dance" took a major step toward realization.

The agreement, signed at a CRA meeting in the Hotel Tokyo downtown, implements a 1981 agreement that made Lewitzky's Dance Gallery an integral part of the 11.2-acre, $1.2-billion California Plaza project on Bunker Hill.

Revised and amended eight times since 1981, the agreement signs over the $2-million site at 4th Street and Grand Avenue to the Dance Gallery and coordinates the construction schedule of the four-story, mostly subterranean $18-million facility with the construction of the central plaza and an office building. It also releases a 10-year CRA loan of $5.5 million to the Dance Gallery--provided that all funds for the completion of the project are in place by June 30.

According to Executive Director Arline Chambers, Dance Gallery is $5 million short of its fund-raising goal of $20 million--an amount that includes a $2-million endowment for initial production and operating costs. Consequently, she speaks of the next four months as the "make or break" time for the project.

"It lives or dies in '88," she says, explaining that major fund raising has been hampered by a condition in the agreement that construction cannot begin until all the money needed is received.

"It's very difficult when you're selling air," she exclaims. "I was general manager of the Orange County Performing Arts Center through the construction. I know what happens when you take potential donors onto a site and there is a girder, a crane, a shovel, a beginning of something."

Jim Wood, chairman of the seven-member Community Redevelopment Agency, says the demand for all the money up-front comes from "an attempt to protect the public investment in this project and limit it to the $5.5 million."

"If it's partially under construction, but they don't have all of the money, there would be a tremendous pressure on the agency to come up with the rest," he says.

"We have found ourselves dealing with the Dance Gallery from the experience of having dealt with the L.A. Theatre Center where we were forced to put funds into the actual operation.

"We were faced there with a building under construction and had to come in subsequently (to subsidize the project)," he continues. "We have found ourselves every year having to put a million dollars into the L.A. Theatre Center. We won't do that again. We have no intention of subsidizing the operation of the Dance Gallery.

"Ours is a construction loan. I want to make that very clear. It's going to be up to them to keep the community involved and supporting them so they can keep the doors open."

For all his caution, Wood insists he is optimistic that the Dance Gallery will meet its June 30 deadline. "I don't see any reason to speculate on what will happen if they don't," he says.

"I believe that Barbara Bain (president of the gallery board of trustees) and Bella Lewitzky are two of the most tenacious fund-raisers I have ever met. I also believe that (real estate attorney) Fred Nicholas is a proven fund-raiser. The Museum of Contemporary Art is one of his most striking success stories. I think he can do for MOCA's neighbor, the Dance Gallery, what he did for MOCA."

Nicholas is the president of the Hapsmith Company, a real estate development firm. He chaired the building committee for MOCA and is chairman of the building committee for Disney Hall, the new Music Center expansion project. He is confident that the Dance Gallery is well on its way to becoming a reality. "Based on my involvement and what I've seen, I'm positive the deal is a go," he says.

However, working out the details in the new agreement between the Dance Gallery, Bunker Hill Associates and the CRA has been very difficult, Nicholas says, "because part of the money that the Dance Gallery has raised is in the form of pledges to be paid out over a period of 2 to 4 years. And the problem has been how do you convert pledges into dollars before the pledges are due?"

Nicholas' long involvement with the project makes him equally likely to offer the founders praise ("I think that at the present time the Dance Gallery is in better shape than at any time since it started the whole process") and criticism.

He points out, for example, that the Gallery sought out professional fund-raising help only last March and that this delay was a factor in the postponement of the project as a whole. "I don't think the fund raising was organized properly," he explains. "It wasn't institutionalized like you have to do in any nonprofit organization. You have to get a lot of people into the process. You have to get professional help; you can't do it with amateurs."

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