By John King
Bob Reese, foreman for Wayne E. Swisher Concrete Inc., works on the wall around the unfinished Mount Diablo Center for the Arts. Chronicle photo by Kat Wade
2001-03-29 04:00:00 PDT Danville -- By now, the Mount Diablo Center for the Arts was to be the cultural hub of Danville -- a posh oasis of theater, sophisticated and social all at once.
Instead, it's a handsome building with a hollow core. One contractor says he's owed $130,000, the land's former owner wants his day in court, and the theater inside the fieldstone-covered shell can't be finished unless donors kick in another $2.6 million.
But as landscapers put finishing touches around the office building that shares the site, and a torn canvas banner that reads "The Curtain Can't Go Up Without You" flaps in the wind, the center's creators say it's only a matter of time before everything works out.
"When it's done, it's going to be bloody gorgeous," says William McCann, the Danville attorney who came up with the idea of fusing a nonprofit theater with a for-profit development five years ago. "This is a very different project. It's unique."
The saga of the arts center is more tangled than a Victorian melodrama, with no end in sight. Already, though, it serves as a cautionary tale to other cities that dream of having their own full-scale theater -- by showing that culture and commerce don't necessarily mix.
Four years after McCann embarked on the project with partner Gordon Bingham,
a former BMW dealer who lives in Alamo, what they have to show for their efforts is a striking 39,000 square foot office building linked to a 299-seat theater by a rotunda that will serve as the theater's lobby.
The link isn't just physical: the pair say they conceived of the office project as a way to help create what one fund-raising brochure promises will be "the place for performing arts and arts education for all valley residents."
"Promote the flowering of arts," McCann explains. "That's why we did it."
The theater was supposed to open last summer, but construction is at a crawl because there isn't the money to finish the theater's interior -- even though the office building is almost ready for occupancy, with a $15 million offer to purchase it on the table.
Clouding the sale is a lawsuit filed last month by the land's former owner - - Dublin developer Sid Corrie, who says that the pair used fraud to purchase the site from him at a below-market price.
The lawsuit charges that McCann persuaded Corrie to contribute a portion of the land to the Belasco Children's Theater, a small Walnut Creek company; McCann was president of the company's board. McCann and Bingham agreed to pay $1.4 million for the remainder of the property. The lawsuit charges that McCann later transferred control of the theater site from the Belasco company to McCann and Bingham at no cost.
Corrie claimed a charitable deduction for the land donation in 1997. Last year, the Internal Revenue Service last year disallowed it.
McCann's reaction to the suit?
"I would characterize the lawsuit as destructive, malicious and libelous," he says. "I hope that's direct enough."
Whatever the facts, Belasco no longer is on the list of possible tenants for the center: "The Belasco Theater Company has no relation or affiliation" with Mount Diablo Center, Belasco attorney Randy Rogers says pointedly. "It hasn't had any contact with anyone at the center in years."
Corrie's not the only one with claims against the project. Delta Steel Erectors, which built the structure, filed a complaint in December saying it is owed $130,000. McCann characterizes the action as "a blip on the screen. . .
. What's at issue are extra charges which are disputed."
Assuming that the legal troubles are settled and the sale goes through, you might think any profits would be used to finish the theater. Not so -- Bingham and McCann say the office building has contributed enough already.
"There's $4 million of infrastructure here -- parking, landscaping, the rotunda," Bingham maintains, "and the theater hasn't paid for any of it."
For the record, Bingham and McCann aren't the only ones calling the shots. They are limited partners in the company building the complex; the managing partner is Bill Tauscher, a former computer services firm owner best known as Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher's former husband.
Tauscher could not be reached yesterday, but McCann describes him in glowing terms.
"Bill Tauscher is a saint," McCann says. "The idea was to subsidize the arts. Bill Tauscher was enough of a visionary to see the potential."
Even if work on the theater slows to a halt, Bingham and McCann say the future is secure: the arts center is owned by a nonprofit foundation they created, and there's a 99-year lease at $1 a year. In the meantime, $3.4 million has been pledged to the project -- but McCann says another $2.6 million is needed to finish everything in style.
And who waits, figuratively, in the wings? Many groups besides Belasco have been mentioned as possible performers, but only one is signed on: Playhouse West, a Walnut Creek company with 900 subscribers.
As for potential donors, don't look for Danville to help close the gap. The Town Council approved the unusual project, and waived some development fees, but a request for $500,000 last summer was rebuffed.
"It's a private project," points out council member Newell Arnerich. "I'm sure they're the type of individuals who will pull this through. It may take a little longer than expected, but I look forward to attending the opening night celebration."
Count on it, Bingham promises: "Everyone says the second half of a fund- raising campaign is easier than the first. . . . We've had hundreds of donors. I believe it's the most successful fund-raising campaign in Contra Costa."
One last question for McCann. If he could turn the clock back, would he do all this again?
"Yes I would," McCann says. "When you try to give birth to beauty, there's always a concomitant crucifixion."
It the theater succeeds, that phrase should be carved in stone above the entryway. If not . . . it's a striking epitaph.
The real story is who ended up with the building likely strung McCann out. I’ve seen this game played on others and myself. Few noticed that Pamela Vitale wife Attorney Dan Horowitz was murdered a few short years later after the litigation ended.
My extreme interest who currently owns this building or has vested interest is behind events near my economic fall and my F-250 Exploded 1000 feet North of this mess.