While arts and government leaders expressed surprise that the cost of the Disney Concert Hall has risen $50 million over original estimates, they voiced guarded optimism Tuesday that the extra money could be raised, even in a struggling economy.
One member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors called for a detailed explanation of why the price of the new home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic will rise to $260 million, including a county-financed parking garage.
"We are surprised and obviously concerned as to the escalating prices," said a spokesman for Supervisor Gloria Molina, whose district includes Disney Hall's Downtown site.
Officials of the Los Angeles Music Center have attributed the increase to rising materials costs and earthquake-related factors, including a shortage of qualified bidders for the construction and stronger seismic safety requirements for steel-framed buildings.
Despite the substantial cost increases, many civic leaders said in interviews that they believe the funds will be raised because the project is important to improving the image of Los Angeles. They also noted that the project's association with the Disney family name will aid in what will still be a difficult fund-raising task.
In a statement Tuesday, Walt Disney's widow, Lillian B. Disney, pledged the family's continued support in seeing the project completed, although they made no immediate commitment to further family donations. The project was initiated by a 1987 gift of $50 million from Lillian Disney, and since then the family gift has grown to $93 million.
Disney said she is confident that the Music Center, the Philharmonic and other supporters will succeed in opening the hall. "I fully expect to play a role in assisting . . . in formulating and executing their financial plan for these additional funds," she said. "I look forward to being in attendance at their first performance."
Construction of a 2,500-space garage, which is financed with county-issued bonds, is nearing completion. Construction of the Frank O. Gehry-designed Downtown concert hall was scheduled to begin in mid-1995, financed mainly by private donations.
County officials cautioned Tuesday that the county was in no position to help cover the increased construction costs disclosed Monday by the Music Center.
Molina asked for a detailed accounting of the cost overruns, according to her press secretary, Robert Alaniz.
"In light of the present economy, we are wondering whether they will be able to reach their fund-raising goal," he said for Molina, who is vacationing. "Keeping in mind that the county is in no position to add funds to the project; it looks pretty dry out there now."
Alaniz said the supervisors were worried about cost overruns when the project was in the early planning stages. "Now we are looking at one that is pretty sizable," he said, adding that construction delays seem likely to take longer than the six months suggested by Music Center officials.
Supervisor Ed Edelman emphasized that the financially strapped county cannot add funds to the concert hall project. In addition to making the Bunker Hill land available and financing the garage, the county has promised to operate and maintain the concert hall.
"We can't offer any more help there," Edelman said Tuesday. But Edelman expressed confidence that private sources will succeed. "This is a problem. This is a setback," he said. "But I think it can be overcome."
Richard Koshalek, director of Downtown's Museum of Contemporary Art, said that raising the necessary money is "highly possible. It's not easy, it's going to be difficult, but I think the Music Center has the leadership strength (to do it)."
"This is a critically important building to be built in Los Angeles," he said of the avant-garde limestone and steel structure that has been compared to a sailing ship. "I feel it is a strong statement of confidence in the city, as well as the city's commitment to quality architecture."
Charlie Ansbach, president of Sacramento-based Ansbach & Associates, a fund-raising and public relations firm, said the Disney cachet could carry the project. "Fund raising is built on relationships," he said. "Certainly it has been my experience that certain organizations can raise a phenomenal amount of money while equally worthy projects (do not).
"L.A., as much as it has been hit with every possible disaster we could have conjured up, still has enormous wealth. There are very few projects that community couldn't take on."
Through a spokesman, Los Angeles Philharmonic chief Ernest Fleischmann and the Philharmonic board also expressed optimism. "The Los Angeles Philharmonic has been looking forward to occupying this exciting new hall as a willing and supportive tenant," he said.
Peter Hemmings, executive director of the Los Angeles Music Center Opera, said "this doesn't come as a complete surprise to us; we have been aware of problems recently. (But) we are confident that the Disney Hall will open in due course."