Legacy Attempts to Bribe the City of Pasadena
Pasadena Star-News Online
Builder incentive plan
Legacy offers to give auditorium to city
November 09, 2001
By Elizabeth Lee
PASADENA -- Trying to drum up support for a proposal to develop the former Ambassador College campus, Legacy Partners gave Pasadena a glimpse Thursday of the "gift" it will present to the city if its plan succeeds: the campus' famous Ambassador Auditorium.
Hundreds of music and arts patrons visited the auditorium, which has been closed since 1995, at the invitation of Legacy and a recently created Ambassador Hall Board of Directors. The board plans to operate a nonprofit corporation that would reopen and manage the concert hall.
The audience listened to the sounds of past performances from Pearl Bailey, Luciano Pavarotti and Vladimir Horowitz as they watched a videotape of the auditorium's history.
"Wasn't that terrific? What a lot of good memories," said Alice Coulombe, president of the board.
The auditorium also resonated with live performances from the Alkabu-lan Boy Choir, pianist Vitaly Margulis and mezzo-soprano Suzanna Guzman.
The sumptuously decorated building opened in 1974 at 205 S. St. John Ave., on the college campus. It gained a reputation as one of the finest concert halls in the country. But it closed in 1995 after its financially troubled owner withdrew a subsidy, which paid for half the auditorium's operating budget.
Now it may reopen, under a proposal from Orange County-based Legacy to convert the surrounding campus and a nearby site into a 1,700-unit housing development.
Legacy is buying the Ambassador campus from the Worldwide Church of God. The church ran the former college and built the auditorium.
But Legacy has no need or desire to own the auditorium, which would run at a deficit because it's too small a venue to recoup operating costs.
The developer is working with city officials and the church to transfer the auditorium to the city if the city approves the development plans. The city would pay nothing for the building, because future homeowners in the development would pay the tab.
The 1,250-seat auditorium is truly world-class, a Legacy representative said, both in the luxurious materials used in construction and its perfect acoustics.
"Because it is so small, there are a lot of people who think the acoustics are even better than Carnegie Hall," said Christle Balvin, a public relations consultant hired by Legacy.
The auditorium was valued at $22 million in an appraisal commissioned by the city, according to city Finance Director Jay Goldstone.
But Balvin said it would cost much more than that to rebuild, due to the expense and rarity of the materials used. There is gold leaf in the lobby and the main hall, Brazilian granite on the exterior walls, and Turkish rose onyx on the interior walls and stairs. The building is surrounded by pillars, has an overhanging roof and rises out of an approximately half-acre reflecting pond.
Under Legacy's proposal, it would make future homeowners in the development -- and no one else -- foot the bill for acquisition of the auditorium and certain improvements.
Property owners on the development sites would pay a special tax, which would be used to repay a bond the city would issue to acquire the auditorium. That bond could be in the neighborhood of $30 million, according to city Project Manager Brian League.
Although the city would pay nothing for the auditorium, it would pay or help pay for a parking garage at St. John and Green Street, which would be used in part by Ambassador Auditorium visitors.
The Ambassador Hall Board of Directors, comprising civic leaders and arts patrons, would operate the theater and -- they hope -- build enough of an endowment to cover operating expenses.
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