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Arco to Make $10-Million Gift for Disney Hall

March 12, 1997|DIANE HAITHMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a major step toward making the troubled Walt Disney Concert Hall a reality, Arco Corp. will announce today a gift of $10 million, sources close to the project said, but the downtown hall's funding gap is still about $115 million.

Arco's contribution, in addition to about $25 million in other donations during the last few months, has significantly reduced the amount needed to meet fund-raising goals set by Los Angeles County officials.

The county had threatened to scuttle the project in early 1995 because of construction delays and spiraling cost estimates. But officials granted an extension after requesting and receiving a fund-raising plan for the estimated $265 million needed to build the hall.

The county plan requires Disney Hall leaders to raise about $52 million by June 30. About $17 million is now still needed to meet that goal.

The next fund-raising goals are $89 million by December 1997 and $142 million by December 1998.

Arco's donation is the largest gift to the proposed new home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic other than donations from Walt Disney's widow, Lillian Disney, who gave the initial $50 million in 1987. Additional gifts plus interest have made the family's contribution nearly $100 million.

Momentum has been building in support of the Frank Gehry-designed hall that seemed doomed last year because of ballooning cost estimates and insufficient funds. Since December, gifts have included a $7.5-million anonymous donation; $5 million apiece from Mayor Richard Riordan and Eli Broad, chairman and chief executive of SunAmerica Inc.; $5 million from Times Mirror Co., parent company of the Los Angeles Times; and other smaller gifts. Riordan and Broad are spearheading the fund-raising campaign.

Until this recent spate of donations, the focus of the project was on its problems, not its potential as a significant contribution to downtown Los Angeles. The concert hall was conceived as the new home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the latest addition to the downtown Music Center. The $50-million Disney donation set the project in motion, but construction on the hall came to an abrupt halt in 1994 as a result of massive cost overruns attributed both to bad estimates and to the complexity of Gehry's design.

Broad was optimistic Tuesday in light of recent contributions. "We feel very confident that we will meet the county requirement . . . by June 30, and we are more confident than ever that we will meet our own, self-imposed goal of $100 million by that date." He added that fund-raisers have "major foundation gifts that are incubating."

In a further note of optimism, Ernest Fleischmann, managing director of the Philharmonic, confirmed Tuesday that the orchestra is already planning programming for the hall's scheduled opening in 2001.

Although Arco spokesman Al Greenstein declined to comment on the gift Tuesday, he confirmed that the company plans to make "a significant announcement" at a news conference scheduled for 8:30 a.m. at the Museum of Contemporary Art downtown near the museum's exhibition of Disney Hall models. Mike R. Bowlin, president and CEO of Arco, is a member of an ad hoc committee of business leaders working in support of the hall.

Long a beacon of corporate philanthropy, Arco was a $9-million donor to the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and has made contributions to MOCA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Los Angeles Music Center.

In the early 1980s, the Arco Foundation donated as much as $30 million annually to charitable causes until declining oil profits ate into company earnings beginning in 1985, Greenstein said.

Nicholas Goldsborough, chief operating officer of the Los Angeles Music Center, would not confirm the details of the announcement in an interview Tuesday, but said that "other than the Disney family gift, it will represent the largest gift to the campaign to date, and significantly advances the campaign toward the June 30 deadline of $52.3 million." Disney Hall is slated to become the fourth venue at the Music Center complex on county-owned land.

Goldsborough said that over the years Arco has made gifts totaling almost $5 million to the Music Center's Unified Fund, which helps support its resident companies, including the Philharmonic.

Goldsborough said that another gift this week of $1 million from a Music Center board of governors member he would not identify, as well as a collection of smaller gifts from other board members, are part of the current total.

Broad said that meeting their June goals will allow Disney fund-raisers to enter a wider campaign targeting the 6,000 to 10,000 previous donors and supporters of the Music Center. Disney Hall officials have said a grass-roots public campaign may follow.

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