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.