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Sunday, January 26, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Millions more needed for McCaw Hall funding

Seattle Times music critic

When you're running a marathon, the last miles are the hardest.

The same is true of a building campaign. Now, with $62 million, or 85 percent, of the $72 million in private funding raised for the $128 million Marion Oliver McCaw Hall (the rebuilt and renamed Seattle Opera House), the Seattle Center Foundation is digging in to raise the last $10 million.

Director Sherrie Boyer admits, "It's tough. But we've been very, very fortunate that the timing of starting the hall (May 2000) was prior to any recession issues. A great number of our major early gifts were all paid in full, not as pledges, which let us earn a little interest and meet construction payments. We received essentially $35 million in cash, which is phenomenal."

The hall, scheduled to open June 28, is on time and on budget. Boyer says a recent $1 million gift from the Neukom family is an "indication of high public interest in this project, and an indication of major gifts to come."

On the public-funding side, things are less rosy. The McCaw Hall financing was designed in a 2000 economy, with an expected $12 million from the state (which had earlier given $8 million to the Benaroya Hall project). Thus far, only $2 million has materialized; there is $4.5 million more in the state's current capital budget, and the Seattle Center's Kym Allen, director of communications and public affairs, says, "Our goal is to take that up to $6 million."

Similarly, fund-raisers hoped to get $5 million from King County, of which only $2 million has arrived. The shortfall in public funding led to the Seattle City Council decision last November to OK a $27.8 million "bridge loan" so the hall could be completed on schedule.

Still unclear: What will happen if public and private fund-raising fall short, leaving the hall (which belongs to the city) partially unpaid? Various options, from a ticket surcharge by the resident organizations, Seattle Opera and Pacific Northwest Ballet, to higher rents or other fees from the user, have been considered.

The next five months of McCaw Hall fund-raising will be critical — at just the time that the region's arts groups are hoping for windfalls of their own. Welcome to the economic realities of the 2003 Pacific Northwest arts scene.

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