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A Challenge to Give . . . to L.A.

Donations: Wall Street pushed to use some of profits to help make Disney Concert Hall a reality.

January 13, 1998|DEBORA VRANA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There's a lot of Wall Street money in Southern California, but you'd never guess it looking at a list of named corporate contributors for downtown Los Angeles' Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Investment banks, brokerage firms and money managers made record profits in 1997, some of it on major deals in Southern California. However, Wall Street giants are remarkably absent when it comes to donations for Los Angeles' biggest civic project in decades.

Enter Fredric M. Roberts, who runs an investment banking boutique in Los Angeles. On Monday, Roberts pledged a "challenge gift" of $250,000 to the Disney Concert Hall and called on other financiers to outdo him.

"Where is Wall Street?" Roberts asked. "In New York, if you want to build a museum or music hall, Wall Street jumps to the fore. Everyone wants their Morgan Stanley wing or the Lehman wing."

Clearly, that happens simply because the bulk of America's financiers are based in New York and Los Angeles has few of its own home-grown investment banking firms.

However, these days many New York investment banks such as Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette and Merrill Lynch & Co. have extensive operations in Los Angeles and even more are rapidly expanding their presence here.

Executives of several Wall Street firms said they give to other areas, such as education, that they feel are more desperately in need of funds. Other firms, such as Merrill Lynch said they simply had not been approached for donations to the Disney Concert Hall.

"We wanted to get our major Los Angeles firms first, but now we are going to pursue the firms that have a major presence here," said Andrea Van de Kamp, chairwoman of the Music Center. "Wall Street is a top priority."

Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, a former venture capitalist, agreed: "We haven't gone after Wall Street but we will. This contribution is a great way to kick this off."

The fund-raising total is currently at about $181.67 million, and about $156.58 million is available for construction of the hall. The hall is expected to cost about $255 million, though the major contractors have yet to submit final bids.

The Disney Concert Hall project was launched in 1987 with a $50-million gift from Walt Disney's widow, Lillian. In December, Walt Disney Co. made a $25-million donation, the largest corporate gift toward the hall, the planned home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Other major corporate donations have included $15 million from Ralphs and the Food 4 Less Foundation and $10 million from the Arco Foundation.

Leslie Thompson, a spokeswoman for Donaldson Lufkin in New York, said she had never heard of the Disney hall: "Is it some sort of low-income thing?"

One of Donaldson Lufkin's largest offices outside New York is in Los Angeles, with more than 100 investment bankers, including the head of corporate finance.

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