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Green Center faces tough challenges

  • Weill Hall, top, is the heart of the $145 million Green Center at SSU. The last major unfinished project is an outdoor amphitheater, upper right, that will seat 10,000 people. (CHAD SURMICK / The Press Democrat)

On the verge of its inaugural weekend, the Green Music Center has positioned itself well in the high-stakes competition of top-shelf performing arts venues, experts say.

“It's spectacular,” Peter Lane, president and CEO of the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, Ark., said of the center's first season lineup, a mixture of classical music heavyweights, jazz, world music and opera performers, comedians and political celebrities.

“I think they're going to hit an absolute home run the first season,” he said.

Beyond season one, however, the center will confront an array of long-term challenges.

Those include attracting a broad audience and competing in a region already rich with performing arts venues with two more opening soon, at Stanford University and in San Francisco.

“You see a honeymoon effect often when new halls open, but you're in a competitive market,” Lane said.

Further complicating the future is that the Green Center is not a separate entity, but part of Sonoma State University. To avoid burdening the university's finances, it must bring in enough from ticket sales, donors and corporate and foundation sponsors to cover its $3.3 million operating budget.

“It's a substantial nut,” said Herb Dwight, the one-time CEO of the former Optical Coating Laboratory, who was one of the center's first major donors.

First-year ticket revenue will be “something under $1 million,” said the center's artistic consultant, Robert Cole, formerly director of Cal Performances, the booking organization for UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall.

He and others believe Weill Hall will be the core of the center's success — if managed correctly.

“This is not just another theater. This is one of the greatest concert halls in America, so it has to be done right,” Cole said. “It has to be seen, really nationwide, as a destination.”

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