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J. Paul Getty Center Costs Top $700-Million Mark : Art: The project has had a $1.4-billion impact on the Los Angeles economy, according to a private study.

October 13, 1993|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | TIMES ART WRITER

For the first time, in answer to rumors of cost overruns and published reports pegging the price of the J. Paul Getty Center as high as $1 billion, Getty officials have revealed that the estimated cost of the center will be $733 million. In 1991, when architect Richard Meier's plans were unveiled, the Getty had estimated construction costs alone at $360 million, but declined to reveal the full price of the undertaking.

The price tag of the enormous structure that is becoming increasingly visible on the hilltop site above the San Diego Freeway includes $449 million for construction, $115 million for the land and site work, $30 million for fixtures and equipment, and $139 million for insurance, engineers' and architects' fees, permits and safety measures, according to Stephen D. Rountree, director of the Getty's building program and director of operations and planning for the trust, an endowment started by the oil baron and art collector, who died in 1976.

"That's a lot of money, but the budget has been held tight," Rountree said.

The building project has had a $1.4-billion impact on Los Angeles County's economy and created 12,900 jobs, according to a Getty-commissioned study completed by the Westwood-based Economics Research Associates.

Upon completion, scheduled for 1997, the new cultural complex is expected to attract about 1.5 million visitors a year, and 6,000 per day on weekends, Rountree said. (The Getty Museum in Malibu currently draws about 450,000 visitors annually.) But the new center seems already to have become a fact of life for Brentwood homeowners, who since 1984 have held more than 100 meetings with Getty officials and resolved many differences.

"We are still concerned about light shining into our homes, about traffic and landscaping, but they seem to be people of good will, as we are," Brentwood Homeowners president Michael Harris said. "They have been very good neighbors, and they are trying to address all legitimate concerns. We have a good-spirited relationship that will get us through the humps."

The Getty Center is the largest construction project in dimensions, cost and complexity currently under way in Los Angeles and probably in the western United States--with the possible exception of public works--Rountree said.

"It isn't a typical hole in the ground," construction executive Greg Cosko said of the massive project. Standing on a dusty vantage point overlooking the construction, he pointed out foundations of a 940,000-square-foot complex that will fill 24 acres of the 110-acre site. Upon completion, the center will house an art museum and five other programs administered by the trust, which the late oil baron endowed with a fortune now worth $4.1 billion.

Trust officials say they expected the project to be complicated, but they couldn't have foreseen all the pitfalls that would delay the planned opening date nearly a decade. The combination of constructing a six-building complex on a highly visible hill, appeasing neighbors, satisfying legal requirements, resolving geologic problems, dealing with environmental issues and accommodating exacting architectural plans--while building a public image for a wealthy upstart institution--has been a daunting experience.

"The site is geologically challenging," Cosko said, ticking off a list of obstacles he has encountered in his position as project executive for Dinwiddie Construction Co., the Getty's general contractor. Geological faults and the fact that conditions vary from one foundation to another have called for sudden changes in engineering plans, he said.

Another major complication has been that the city has required that not a single shovelful of dirt from the site can be removed. Conforming to that particular regulation in a 107-point conditional-use permit means that a great deal of time is spent moving the displaced earth around the hill. There would appear to be plenty of space for it, but the process of moving mounds of soil around the site has added to the congestion created by the 750 laborers who typically arrive each day to work on the six clusters of buildings in various stages of construction.

"Logistics is the hardest part of the job," chief superintendent Ronald V. Bayek said, threading his way between earth movers, cranes, foundations, roadways and piles of dirt. "I've had more space when I've worked on high-rises in crowded-in urban centers," he said.

But any talk of difficulty is tinged with pride at being part of a unique project. "Today, any construction job is a good job, but this is very desirable because of the prestige," Cosko said. "We were able to attract the best talent in the construction industry, and that includes all the work force and all the subcontractors."

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