Sonoma State University's $145 million Green Music Center, after a final boost from a banking magnate, is set to open Saturday, catching attention around the country.
The opening is a decade later than first projected. In the 15 years since the dream was launched and 12 years since ground was broken, the center has been a costly tale of aspiration and controversy, hindered by slippery economic slopes and elevated by startlingly rich support.
"It's happening," said SSU President Ruben Armi?na, whose legacy will be marked indelibly by a project for which he has been shepherd and cheerleader from the start.
"Despite all the doubt, it's happening," he said, pleasure and relief clear in his voice.
About $15 million still is needed to complete the 250-seat Schroeder recital hall and an outdoor pavilion for 10,000 people partially funded by a Mastercard sponsorship. But the 600,000-square-foot music center feels whole in a way it never has before.
And Armi?na — who always has characterized it in understated terms as a union of education and culture — now takes flight when articulating his vision for it.
"It will help us all think about and be challenged about what the world is and could be, through different lenses of the mind and the senses," he said.
The center's chief private benefactor, former Citigroup CEO and Chairman Sanford "Sandy" Weill, paints it as an institution that will become a cultural gathering place with international appeal, heightening SSU's profile while serving as a resource for at-risk youth.
"It will make Sonoma State a unique campus where people from all over the world will want to come. It is ambitious, but I think it's doable," Weill said.
"All the PR is right," he said, referring to Sonoma County's renown as a food and wine center, its temperate climate and the concert hall's nascent but blossoming reputation.
Through the years Armi?na has absorbed steady criticism, at times sharply personal in nature, for his unwavering (detractors called it stubborn) attachment to a constantly expanding vision of a "world-class" music hall at a small public university.
"A runaway ego thing," environmental sciences professor Steve Orlick said in 2010 when it was announced that $30 million more would be needed for the project.
What was originally planned as a $10 million choral auditorium grew in scope to the current facility, priced at almost 15 times that and containing concert and recital halls, a restaurant, an outdoor amphitheater, practice studios and classrooms.
In the interim, state education funds were being cut and tuition was on its way to doubling. Skeptics on the SSU faculty revolted.
Armi?na suffered the indignity of a 2007 faculty no-confidence vote partly driven by concerns that the center was an indulgence that the university could ill afford and was detracting from SSU's academic mission.
But for now the glow of the well-polished wood in the three-story Joan and Sanford I. Weill Hall appears to have muted that history of conflict, delivering the moment fully to Armi?na and music center boosters.
While critics remain, even some of the most persistent credit the university president with a major achievement.
"Our concern was that there wouldn't be the resources — that was the big fear, that all of a sudden the academic side would find themselves paying huge bills. But those have diminished because of Ruben's ability to pull in the money," said history professor Robert Karlsrud, dean emeritus of the school of social sciences.