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Center Seeking Santas With Big Bank Accounts


Officials at the Orange County Performing Arts Center have made it clear what they want for Christmas and Hanukkah: seven- and eight-figure checks to help them reach their $200-million fund-raising goal for major expansion.

Commitments continue to come in. Jerry E. Mandel, the center's president and chief executive, says more than $76 million has been raised to date, including $11 million in the three months since arts patron and shopping mall mogul Henry T. Segerstrom jump-started the campaign with a $40-million cornerstone gift.

Mandel hopes the holidays will bring further largess for the project, which includes the 2,000-seat Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, a 500-seat multipurpose theater and a park-like plaza to connect the expansion wing with the existing facility in Costa Mesa. The existing 3,000- and 300-seat halls are tightly booked, and center officials say the new auditoriums are needed to accommodate all the shows Orange County arts lovers want to see. The target opening date is late 2004 or early 2005.

On the plus side, says Mandel, a veteran fund-raiser for universities before becoming the center's president, December is traditionally a good month for large-scale giving, thanks to the Internal Revenue Service if not the holiday spirit. Prospective donors with large capital gains often like to do their giving by year's end to lower their tax bite.

On the queasier side, the markets have been falling. Mandel hopes the indexes start rising again, putting prospective donors in an expansive mood. "The last week or two the economy's got me not nervous but aware, anyway," he said. "The market can drive you crazy, but we keep moving along. The economy is strong."

The center hopes to raise $45 million in two large "naming" gift chunks: $25 million for the 500-seat hall and $20 million for the plaza. Pitches for those amounts and $5 million "Circle of Honor" memberships have been made to at least 20 prospective donors, Mandel said. "Nobody has said, 'Go away, forget it, it's a bad idea.' Some have said, 'I need to talk to you after the first of the year, but we love the project.' "

When the campaign reaches the $100-million halfway mark, Mandel said, it will kick into a new phase with a public appeal for donations of all amounts from all sources.

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