Philanthropists Joan and Sandy Weill are donating $12 million to Sonoma State University for completion of the Green Music Center, the university announced Tuesday.
Described as the largest single cash gift in SSU's history, the donation ensures a fall 2012 opening of the center, with its 1,400-seat Tanglewood-style concert hall named after the Weills.
Sanford "Sandy" Weill is a former chief executive of Citigroup, which he built into the world's largest bank before the financial meltdown of 2008, and is a nationally recognized philanthropist.
Weill, 78, and his wife, 76, both classical music lovers, said they have donated $800 million to arts, health care, educational and social service organizations.
The Weills, whose primary residence is New York City, bought a 362-acre estate in the hills west of Sonoma for nearly $31 million last year, believed to be a record price for a real estate deal in Sonoma County.
"We love to be involved in the communities where we spend time," Sandy Weill said in an interview Tuesday on the concert hall stage.
When the couple first toured the Green Center late last year and heard a student piano, violin and cello performance, Sandy Weill said they were impressed by the "sound of the music filling the hall."
To confirm their impression, the Weills asked Chinese concert pianist Lang Lang, a friend, and Carnegie Hall Executive and Artistic Director Clive Gillinson to check out the towering concert hall.
Gillinson "thought it was phenomenal," said Sandy Weill, who is chairman of the Carnegie Hall board of trustees.
Weill said the concert hall will give Sonoma County a "terrific" economic boost, adding a "world class cultural destination" to an area that has "world-class wines and world-class weather — not counting March."
Joan Weill said she thinks the SSU facility is "a little better" than Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra's acclaimed summer home in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts.
SSU President Ruben Armi?na, who has sustained the financial push for the center for more than a decade, said, "very soon, this majestic new facility will be available to all."
Arminana was at a California State University trustees meeting Tuesday in Long Beach seeking approval of the name Joan and Sanford I. Weill Hall.
Since the center's groundbreaking in 1997, projected costs have grown more than tenfold, to about $120 million, and faculty critics say it has diverted money and attention from SSU's academic mission.
Major funding for the center includes $62 million in donations, including the Weills' gift, and about $45 million from taxpayers in the form of California State University funds and educational bond monies for construction projects.
Noel Byrne, a sociology professor, said the project "was a mistake to begin with" but now cannot be undone.
"There is no going back," Byrne said, characterizing a failure to complete the center as a "Pyrrhic outcome" that would benefit no one.
Byrne said he believes the center will not be financially self-supporting and will require continued fund-raising efforts by the university's development office.
"I would be happy to be wrong," Byrne said.
Another faculty critic, Steve Orlick, a professor of environmental studies and planning, said he had "no problem with rich people giving piles of dough to the university," but predicted the center will be an ongoing financial drain on SSU.