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Disney Hall Work Halted, Study to Cut Costs Started

November 03, 1994|LARRY GORDON and DIANE HAITHMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Faced with a $50-million funding shortage, officials said Wednesday that they have halted all construction-related work on the proposed Walt Disney Concert Hall and launched a study to cut costs of the Downtown project that is to be the new home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

All aspects of the building, including its avant-garde design by architect Frank O. Gehry, are to be reviewed over the next three months by Hines Interests, a nationally respected builder and construction management firm.

The study and implementation of its suggestions could delay construction of the hall, which was scheduled to start next month, by a year or so, according to Frederick M. Nicholas, volunteer chairman of the Walt Disney Hall Committee. County-financed construction of the nearly completed underground garage will continue.

The estimated price tag of the 2,380-seat concert hall escalated by last summer to $260 million, which was $50 million more than planned. That increase was partly because of a procedural gamble known as fast-tracking--starting construction of the garage before detailed drawings and contracts for the hall were finalized.

The Hines review is intended to provide donors with a firm cost estimate and to assure them that the hall can be built at or below $260 million, Nicholas and others explained. According to a county mandate, work cannot proceed until funds are pledged for 95% of the hall's costs.

"We believe that this is an important step that we've taken, because we want to ensure that this project is not going to proceed out of control," Nicholas said during an interview at his Beverly Hills office Wednesday. "That is crucial particularly in light of the fact that we have to raise the money.

"We wanted to end up with a package that we could sell to the public as well as to our supporters," he added.

All engineering work and material bidding for the concert hall will cease for several months, officials said. During that period, the Hines firm will review such matters as Gehry's design, the detailed architectural drawings done by Dworsky Associates, construction materials, mechanical systems, contract bidding procedures and what those involved concede is the awkward management structure of the project.

Officials said they do not expect major changes in the building's exterior shape, which has been compared to a sailing ship or a many-petaled flower. The top priority, they stressed, is to preserve the fine acoustical conditions and warm, wood-lined environment planned for the interior.

However, the consultants will consider replacing the Italian limestone exterior with plaster, eliminating some skylights and changing lobbies and reception areas. "Things that are in there to add comfort and value to the design but might not be necessary," Nicholas said.

The Disney Hall committee said it has stopped the practice of fast-tracking. The Hines firm recently has warned that to proceed without completed drawings and guaranteed contracts has "the risk of encountering significant cost increases."

James Glymph, Gehry's partner who is managing the concert hall project for the Santa Monica-based firm, said he and Gehry welcomed the Hines review, which is to cost up to $100,000.

"We are very, very happy to see Hines brought to the job because it represents a continued commitment to make this thing work," Glymph said. "Hundreds of decisions have been made over the course of many years and a fresh look may yield new ideas of saving money."

Glymph said Gehry is flexible about possible design changes, but does not expect any radical reworkings. "We are willing to stay with anything that rationally accomplishes the mission to get a quality concert hall built," he said.

Lillian B. Disney, Walt Disney's widow, who gave the founding $50 million to the project, agrees with the decision to conduct a review, her representative said. Through accrued interest and additional gifts, the Disney family's total contributions have grown to $93 million.

Disney family attorney Ron Gother said the family will consider all cost-cutting suggestions, but wants the hall's interior to be built as planned. "It's been tested, it's expected to be a superior-sounding hall, it looks great," he said.

Gother said it is premature to talk about the family possibly boosting its contributions.

Nicholas said he had a number of other major private donors in mind who might help make up the $50-million gap, but he declined to identify them and stressed that the Hines study must come before more fund raising. Nicholas also said he has been talking to city, county, state and federal government entities for financial support, possibly in the form of bonds.

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