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O.C. Concert Hall Debut Postponed Until 2006

Arts: Though donations are lagging for the $200-million venue, officials say the delay is mostly to ensure that the acoustics are perfect.


With donations at a standstill halfway to their goal, leaders of the Orange County Performing Arts Center said Monday that the $200-million concert hall they had aimed to open in the fall of 2005 will be delayed a year.

While acknowledging that the delay will provide more time to raise money, the center's chairman, Paul F. Folino, said the decision to push back the opening until October 2006 was not based on fund-raising difficulties. About $100 million has been raised or pledged since the campaign began nearly three years ago.

But, amid a plummeting stock market and other economic woes, only $3.5 million in new donations has been announced in the past 12 months.

Instead, center officials proclaimed a "No wine before its time" ethic: Because of its complex acoustical engineering, they said, the 2,000-seat hall requires a break-in time of three to six months to "tune" it for peak sonic performance, and pushing to keep to the original schedule would have risked getting off to a bad start.

Folino and center President Jerry E. Mandel pointed to the experience at Philadelphia's Verizon Hall, which struck a sour note with most critics when it opened in December. Acoustical engineer Russell Johnson was in charge of the Philadelphia hall's sound as well as the one in Costa Mesa.

"A lot of cities have looked at the Philadelphia experience and are making sure they have plenty of time for the tuning period," said Johnson, who was at the center Monday along with the project's architect, Cesar Pelli, for the first public unveiling of the hall's interior design.

Center leaders hope that with the design complete and detailed in an assortment of models, sample materials and artists' renderings, they can use them to focus community interest and inspire donations. Last October, then-chairman Roger T. Kirwan set a goal of between $125 million and $150 million for the campaign by the end of 2002. Folino said the aim now is to raise $30 million in the coming 12 months, putting the center, at the end of 2003, in the range that leaders hoped they could reach this year.

A ceremonial groundbreaking is planned for Jan. 21, with actual construction to begin next spring. Where previously the strategy had been to raise as much as $150 million during a "silent phase" when only prospective high-rolling donors were approached, Folino said the plan now is to seek donations from all comers starting with the groundbreaking.

"We want to get more community momentum for the project, and we can do that by reaching out to the public," Folino said. As former president of neighboring South Coast Repertory, Folino has led a five-year fund-raising campaign that passed its target of $40 million--including $19 million for a just-unveiled theater expansion. Folino, the chief executive of Emulex Corp., a Costa Mesa high-tech company, contributed $10 million of that himself.

"If you look around, people are still raising money, and our goal is to get going" despite the poor economy, Folino said. If need be, he said, the center could issue bonds to ensure that the new timetable is met.

The Pacific Symphony, which will be the new concert hall's leading tenant, views the extra year as "welcome news," president John E. Forsyte said Monday.

The symphony faces its own challenges: building its audience and raising money so it can present more performances when the hall opens.

The aim is to increase the annual budget from $11 million to $15 million by then. "It's important to have extra time, especially with the economy," Forsyte said.

The interior design unveiled Monday calls for an auditorium with ivory-colored plaster facades for its four undulating balconies, light-colored wood paneling on the walls, and bright, red velvet upholstery on the seats. The three adjustable acoustical canopies would hang above the stage, and orchestra areas will have silver facades. Mounted on the back wall behind the orchestra will be an organ with about 4,600 pipes, the largest 32 feet long. The outside walls will be of pale beige limestone; the building's hallmark will be a curved, wave-like glass facade intended to be set a-glitter with light while providing a see-through effect, making it "a transparent veil," as Pelli described it.

Pelli said concertgoers in the lobbies of the new Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall and the existing, 3,000-seat Segerstrom Hall will be able to see one another. "It adds to the sense of festivity, of the importance of a town center in Costa Mesa."

Pelli described the concert space's interior as "a fairly simple, spare hall but with enough elements to give it a sense of elegance."

The new wing's second auditorium, a 500-seat space with flexible seating, has a separate glass entrance that is meant to convey a less formal atmosphere, Pelli said. "People should feel comfortable coming there in bluejeans."

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