Publishers Note: Koch Industries became the nation’s largest privately held company in November 2005, when it acquired the paper maker Georgia-Pacific for $13.2 billion. This article is of interest to MendoCoastCurrent readers as a very large, abandoned, George-Pacific Mill Site is situated on the waterfront of Fort Bragg, CA on the Mendocino coast.
ROBIN POGREBIN, The New York Times, July 10, 2008
In years to come, when the oil-and-gas billionaire David H. Koch attends a gala performance of New York City Ballet or City Opera at Lincoln Center, the building he enters in black tie will bear his name.
Mr. Koch, recently called the wealthiest resident of New York City, has agreed to contribute $100 million toward the renovation of the New York State Theater, which is home to the two companies. His gift will be the largest private capital donation in Lincoln Center’s history and a triumph in a period of growing economic uncertainty.
“They seem to like me there, and I like them, so I think we’ve got a deal,” Mr. Koch, 68, said in a telephone interview on Wednesday from Boston, where he was traveling. “Its obvious that this theater needs modernization.”
“I’ve been going to the New York State Theater for 40 years,” he said. “I can assure you, I would not make a gift of this magnitude unless I was absolutely convinced that the quality of the work was world class.”
Starting this fall the building will be known as the David H. Koch Theater. The change will become the second planned renaming of a New York institution for a major donor in just four months; in March the New York Public Library announced that it would name its main building after the Wall Street financier Stephen A. Schwarzman in return for a $100 million gift.
With an estimated net worth of $17 billion, Mr. Koch (pronounced coke) ranks 10th on Forbes’s list of the nation’s wealthiest and 37th on its list of the world’s wealthiest. Based on that estimate the $100 million gift amounts to half of 1% of his wealth.
Reynold Levy, president of Lincoln Center, described Mr. Koch’s donation as “a very important statement about the importance and the future of performing arts in this country.” He added, “This gift puts the performing arts in another league of fund-raising and helps to elevate our expectations and gives us all a tremendous vote of confidence.”
Susan L. Baker, chairwoman of New York City Opera, said there was no internal opposition to the name change. “Sometimes there are ideas that are so good and right that they just don’t have a lot of resistance,” she said. “We all realize the value of this terrific opportunity.”
A name change was approved by the New York State Legislature in April. The theater belonged to the state until 1965, when it was turned over to the city.
Constructed at a cost of $19.3 million, the State Theater opened on April 23, 1964, at Columbus Avenue at 63rd Street, on the south end of the Lincoln Center complex. It was the second performing-arts building to open after Philharmonic Hall, now Avery Fisher Hall.
Mr. Koch will donate the money over 10 years, with an initial $15 million payment this summer, a $10 million annual payment for eight years and a final $5 million installment.
Under the arrangement the theater could be renamed for a new donor after 50 years, with members of the Koch family retaining the right of first refusal. “A naming opportunity should be a defined length of time to allow the institution to regenerate itself with another round of major fund-raising,” Mr. Koch said.
His donation is the lead gift in a $200 million capital campaign to enhance and update the auditorium and audience amenities of the theater.
As the first such joint undertaking of the opera and ballet, the fund-raising effort reflects progress in what has been a historically strained relationship between the companies.
“We are all working together,” Ken Tabachnick, general manager of New York City Ballet, said. “We are intimately in discussion on every part of this renovation.”
Sharing the hall hasn’t been easy. The stage was designed at the behest of George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein, the dance company’s founders, to muffle dancers’ footfalls. The muted sound diminishes the opera’s acoustics, which music buffs agree need improvement despite several modifications over the decades, including amplification.
For years City Opera had tried unsuccessfully to find its own home, seeking at one point to secure the performing-arts space at the World Trade Center site and later the former American Red Cross site near Lincoln Center.
Finally, with the appointment of Gerold Mortier as the future general and artistic director in March 2007, City Opera decided to remain at the State Theater after he made a strong case for staying put.
The State Theater will go dark for renovations during City Opera’s 2008-9 season, but construction will be periodically suspended so the ballet can proceed with its lucrative holiday “Nutcracker” and then its winter and spring seasons.
The first phase of renovation, budgeted for $50 million and already under way with a completion goal of fall 2009, involves new seats and carpets, an enlarged orchestra pit with a mechanical lift, a new stage lighting system and new audiovisual and media equipment. The original Philip Johnson design for the building will be maintained.
The first phase is being financed through a mix of private and public sources. The remaining $150 million will go toward a hoped-for second phase that could include upgrading the lobby, dressing rooms and other spaces, and would bolster support for the endowment.
The city is expected to contribute to the project. Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts Inc. is exploring how much of the money raised it will match. For other constituent groups like the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Lincoln Center Theater, Lincoln Center has matched 20% of the first $25 million raised and 15% of everything over that amount.
Mr. Koch is an executive vice president and a board member of Koch Industries, based in Wichita, Kan., and owns a diverse group of companies with more than $100 billion in revenues and 80,000 employees in nearly 60 countries. The companies’ brands include Stainmaster carpet, Lycra spandex, Quilted Northern tissue and Dixie cups and tabletop products.
Koch Industries, founded in 1927 by Mr. Koch’s father, Fred, with a fleet of oil-delivery trucks, became the nation’s largest privately held company in November 2005, when it acquired the paper maker Georgia-Pacific for $13.2 billion.
Born in Wichita, Mr. Koch earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering at MIT, to which he donated $100 million for cancer research in October.
Other charitable donations have included $20 million to the American Museum of Natural History in 2006 for the David H. Koch Dinosaur Wing. That same year he promised $20 million to John Hopkins University’s medical campus in Baltimore, a gift that resulted in the new David H. Koch Cancer Research Building.
Mr. Koch also serves as the board chairman and chief executive of the Koch Chemical Technology Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries, and on more than 20 nonprofit boards, including those of American Ballet Theatre, the American Museum of Natural History and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Mr. Koch’s home in Aspen, Colo., famous for its New Year’s Eve parties in his bachelor days, boasts trophies from big-game hunts with his father in Botswana and Mozambique. A pair of 130-pound Ugandan elephant tusks frames the dining room. He and his wife, Julia, have three children.
Mr. Koch, a major contributor to the Republican Party and supporter of conservative causes, was the vice presidential candidate on the Libertarian ticket in 1980. In 2003 he helped establish the nonprofit Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which supports free-market policies and promotes government spending limits. It split off from an earlier Koch-backed enterprise, now called FreedomWorks, which promotes similar goals.
In recent years Mr. and Mrs. Koch have become fixtures on the New York social circuit. They were honored at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s annual corporate benefit, at the Food Allergy Ball in 2005 and at the American Museum of Natural History in 2006.
His taste in real estate made news in 2006 when, seeking more space for his family, Mr. Koch sold his apartment at 1040 Fifth Avenue, once owned by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and moved to 740 Park Avenue, home to business titans like Ronald S. Lauder and Mr. Schwarzman.
Mr. Koch said that he considered Mr. Schwarzman’s gift to the library an inspiration. “I admire people like that immensely — who have great wealth but are generous in terms of supporting worthy causes,” he said.