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Sonoma State's $120 million Green Center takes center stage

  • The Green Music Center concert hall on the Sonoma State University campus in Rohnert Park came alive during the Department of Music's concert Saturday. More than 300 people listened to a variety of musical pieces from modern jazz to classical. (KENT PORTER/The Press Democrat)

The music center that has come to define a large part of Sonoma State University President Ruben Armiñana's 18-year tenure broke ground almost exactly a decade ago.

But not until Saturday did the Green Music Center hold the first performance for the general public, including students, in its landmark concert hall.

Originally intended to be a premier performing arts center funded solely by private donors, it has cost taxpayers about $45 million in California State University funds and education bond monies for construction projects.

Since its groundbreaking, projected costs have grown more than tenfold, to about $120 million.

Over that time, supporters, including a roster of North Coast philanthropists, have maintained that when done, the center will put SSU and Sonoma County on the nation's cultural map.

University officials also say Green Center fundraising efforts have spurred more gifts to a wide spectrum of other academic programs — and will continue to do so.

“It has brought a lot of donors who wouldn't have been attracted to this university otherwise, and who actually have interests that extend beyond music,” said Jeff Langley, artistic director for SSU's performing arts departments.

“This is going to be the gift that keeps on giving,” he said.

Armiñana says the center will be a “symbol of excellence in public education in California and for bridging community to campus.”

It will be “a world-class, superb destination for the musical arts and a gathering place for our educational offerings,” he said last week.

But from its earliest days, the center became what has remained an enduring point of friction between Armiñana and a chorus of his critics on SSU's faculty.

Those critics agree the center almost assuredly will be the top-shelf facility that Armiñana and other supporters promise. But they say it has diverted money and attention from the university's academic mission.

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