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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 <NO1><NO>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 $3.3million 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<NO1><NO>.

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."

Larry Furukawa-Schlereth, SSU's chief financial officer and also the music center's executive director, offers a similar assessment. The approach "will have to reflect the uniqueness of our venue. There's not a venue like this anywhere in the western United States," he said.

The goal is for the hall to take its place among the Bay Area's prominent attractions, said its principal private benefactor, financier Sanford "Sandy" Weill.

"In addition to all the other great things that San Francisco and the area provide, this will be one more venue that people will want to go see," he said.

Sustained quality of the programming, though not the only factor, will be key to its success, industry observers say.

The music center "could be very exciting and fill a niche not presently being filled," said Laura Zucker, executive director of the Los Angeles County Arts Commission and head of Claremont Graduate University's master in arts management program.

"That's going to be driven by phenomenal programming people can't see anywhere else," she said.

Green Music Center officials say they know that programming is one of the most important tasks they face.

"We have an extraordinary first season, everyone is very, very proud of it," Furukawa-Schlereth said. "Once you begin with that, you want to maintain it. It's an ongoing commitment that the university has."

The second-season lineup at the center's Joan and Sanford I. Weill Hall — named for Weill and his wife — is largely set, but cannot be announced yet, Cole said.

Sonoma County greenhouse gas emissions

The Santa Rosa-based Climate Protection Center estimated total Sonoma County emissions in 2016 at 3.4 million tons, compared to 3.5 million tons in 1990.

Share of 2016 emissions

Transportation: 70 percent

Natural gas use: 18 percent

Electricity: 9 percent

Solid waste: 3 percent

SOURCE: Climate Protection Center

Other challenges include enlarging the potential audience, said Cole, whom SSU hired as a consultant in 2011 largely because of his stellar industry connections.

"We need to bring an audience from outside the county in order to make this a viable center artistically and financially," he said. "It can't be that you run a place like that just with people who live there already, the population just isn't large enough."

That challenge has a flip side, Lane said: "The real question is, &‘Is there a market for this much classical music concentrated in your marketplace?' I hope there is."

Sustained financial support also is integral to the center; such performing arts venues typically bring in about half their revenue from ticket sales, relying on other sources for the remainder, experts say.

"It's mostly about who's going to finance this thing in the long term," said Bruce Thibodeau, president of Arts Consulting Group, a national arts sector management firm.

"Are the major donors, the champions of this project, willing to continue to finance at least the first five years, which are critical?" Thibodeau <NO1><NO>asked. <NO1><NO>"That's the challenging part."

In its favor, Zucker said, is that the music center is a part of the university and "it's got the larger safety net of a much bigger budgeted institution."

"It doesn't live or die as a contained unit with a box around it," she said.<NO1><NO>

The goal, Furukawa-Schlereth said, "is to try and make it self supporting," and efforts to develop an operating endowment to help with ongoing expenses are under way.

Having stepped in to push the capital campaign over the top, Weill is now seen as a major player in solidifying the music center's future.

"It's going to take someone of Sandy's contacts to get it to a point where it's self-sustained, Dwight said. "That's the challenge at this moment, and I have no doubt he and his friends are going to pull it off."

Weill said last week that he is committed to that. "It is something that my wife and I both agree to, and we're spending a ton of time at the university really working with everyone and working on how to make it work," he said.

"As long as we're still standing, we think that this is a very, very important thing that can affect the lives of a lot of people and we're thrilled that we have the opportunity to work on it," he said.

Also, said Furukawa-Schlereth and Cole, an outdated 2008 business plan is being rewritten as a <NO1><NO>strategic<NO1><NO> plan for the future.

"They really need to rework what they had based upon reality, what we see, and that's under way. It's just a matter of getting through this weekend," Cole said.

"Frankly everyone's been so over-stressed about the opening and just getting it going, everyone's just hanging on by the fingernails," he said. "The first weekend is sold out. That's a good business plan right there."

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