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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

Arts Facilities Plans Hold Promise

November 15, 1998

For years, the addition of another concert hall has been a dream to make the neighborhood of the Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa a world-class cultural center for Orange County. Recent plans for a museum as well have added to the promise.

Early this year, the center's chairman, Mark Chapin Johnson, announced that the Segerstrom family had agreed to donate seven acres near the arts center for this purpose. Last week, in a signal of the intention to move forward, Henry T. Segerstrom and the renowned architect Cesar Pelli privately previewed some renderings of an 1,800- to 2,000-seat concert hall, a multipurpose theater and space for an art museum.

The presentation was shown to trustees at a regular center board meeting. Also in the audience were representatives from key regional cultural institutions that might be expected to have an important role in actually making the new facility a reality.

While the renderings were preliminary and the meeting was held in an atmosphere of secrecy, the intention of enlisting the participation of important community players early on was clear. If the dream of a broader cultural center is to fly, local arts groups such as the Pacific Symphony, Philharmonic Society of Orange County, Opera Pacific, and William Hall Master Chorale and Pacific Chorale will have to be on board. The chairman of the Orange County Museum of Art acknowledged having private discussions with Pelli. He said this conversation addressed a critical part of the plan to locate a museum at the site.

The forward movement is clearly welcome and to be encouraged. At the same time, there remain many questions to be answered. The agreement to donate the land is in place, but the land has yet to be deeded. Officials have said the concert hall would cost about $100 million, but it's not clear what other components would cost, nor what the timetable for construction might be.

What is clear is that a great deal of money will have to be raised, and commitments on such key questions as who will occupy the museum will have to be made.

Nevertheless, the planners should be encouraged for their vision and early work to produce this center. There are already some appealing features being floated, such as the sweeping outdoor plaza. Such components can create an atmosphere that invites public involvement, and provide a distinctive cultural mecca.

Last week's meeting signaled both what this might be and what still needs to be worked out. A big project like this will take time, and there will be details to resolve. This was at least a first look at the plan for the board and an inspiration for those who might be participants.

This news of progress in plans for a new arts center is welcome, but more information obviously will be needed before this will seem to be a "go" project for the public. If they can be made to happen, the new arts facilities will make a wonderful addition to the county's cultural life and contribute to its identity as a sophisticated center.

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