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Disney Hall Hangs Its Pitch on the Future of Downtown

The arts: In a drive to raise money, supporters emphasize the project's importance as part of an urban renewal effort.


Note to potential donors: You don't necessarily have to like music to like Walt Disney Concert Hall.

These days, when SunAmerica Corp. President Eli Broad, Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, Music Center Chairman Andrea Van de Kamp, Music Center chief operating officer Nicholas Goldsborough or any of the other forces behind the Walt Disney Concert Hall project approach potential donors to help fill the hall's $150-million funding gap, they present an information kit that doesn't even carry the words "Disney" or "concert hall."

The white lettering on the kit's black cover simply says: "The Heart of the City."

Rather than touting Disney Hall primarily as an acoustically superior home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Los Angeles Music Center, Disney Hall's supporters have begun to trumpet the hall's importance as part of an urban revitalization effort that includes the proposed downtown sports arena, the new Roman Catholic cathedral, a Japanese American Museum and the Colburn School of Music, an addition to Bunker Hill that is under construction.

Broad said that in earlier phases of Disney Hall fund-raising, there was little emphasis on downtown as a whole. "Now, when we go to donors, it's more than: How would you like to give money to Disney Hall? Well, some of them wouldn't. It's about downtown, it's about the city. That wasn't really happening."

Riordan, who has committed $5 million in personal funds to Disney Hall, said, "I see Disney Hall as one of several pearls in a new downtown necklace. Disney Hall will be a major part of the renaissance of the heart of the city."

Dan Rosenfeld, assistant general manager of the city's Department of General Services, charged with managing the city's real estate, noted that none of the new downtown projects is part of a master plan, but he said the Disney Hall project fits in well with the city's hopes for redevelopment of its core.

"Downtown will be redeveloped block by block, building by building," he said. "There was a time when the vision was that urban redevelopment happened in large master-planned, multi-block projects. Now we're finding it's a much more incremental activity, and you get a better city for that [with] a diversity of structures and architectural styles."

Los Angeles historian and culture critic Norman Klein has strong criticisms of the historical development of the city's downtown, which he believes is separated from its viable surrounding neighborhoods by a "DMZ" of urban blight. He sees proposed projects like Disney Hall as no solution to that very complex problem. Still, he believes that if the hall is constructed as a people-friendly building with attractive, safe surrounding blocks and affordable parking, it can enrich the downtown area. He added that trying to lure donors from the business community on the basis of downtown renewal makes sense. "I think the idea of having a work of architecture of global importance can't hurt the presence of businesses, and it's a magnet in a tourist sense," he said.

Recent additions to Broad's ad hoc fund-raising group for the hall, most of whom are also donors, have strong ties to the vitality of downtown. In February, for instance, Mike R. Bowlin, president and chief executive of downtown-based Arco, and Mark Willes, chairman, president and CEO of Times Mirror Co., parent company of The Times, joined the effort. Another member of the support group, Brentwood-based attorney Dan Belin, has been a longtime Music Center supporter who is on the Philharmonic's board of directors.

Willes said that commitment to saving downtown led to his company's December decision to commit $5 million to Disney Hall. "We have an almost historic opportunity, with the cathedral, with Disney Hall, to literally start to make a significant impact on the economic vibrancy of downtown," he said. "In a way, it doesn't have anything to do with music, it has everything to do with the kind of city we live in.

"The arena is being done by private developers, and the cathedral is being done by the church. All of us have to be responsible for Disney Hall."

To cement the link in the city's collective consciousness, the Music Center's Goldsborough volunteered to speak at a Feb. 20 luncheon hosted by the Central City Assn. of Los Angeles, a nonprofit membership organization with many downtown members, which featured public previews of the proposed downtown projects. "I thought, when I got the notice [about the meeting], that it was just obviously missing, and I thought we should be on the program," he said.

The Central City Assn. was surprised but pleased by the call, said its president, Carol Schatz. "I think there is no secret that the fund-raising efforts had come to a standstill in the past couple of years," she said. "We were waiting for some signals as to whether or not the project was moving forward, and I think we got them at this luncheon."

John Semcken, representative for sports arena developers Edward P. Roski and Philip Anschutz, who own the L.A. Kings hockey team, said that although Roski and Anschutz have not donated to Disney Hall, both support the linkage of the projects.

"We would love nothing more than to have someone come to dinner at one of our theme restaurants and then go up the street to the Disney Hall," Semcken said. "I don't want to mislead you that the people who are doing the arena are going to finance the Disney Hall, but I do think they are complementary."

"I'm in the real estate business . . . and whenever you look at cities that have sort of seen a rebirth, cities like Cleveland or Chicago, those are the cities that have the whole nucleus. Any of these items, the arena by itself, or the cathedral by itself, or the Disney Hall or the train station aren't enough; it requires an overall coordinated effort."

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