San Diego Symphony, after raising $98.7 million, will name new concert venue The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park
The orchestra, which has exceeded 75 percent of its $125 million fundraising goal through philanthropic generosity, will now open its capital campaign to the public
After quietly raising $98.7 million from key philanthropic supporters over the past five years, the San Diego Symphony will announce today that its new bayside concert venue downtown will officially be called The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park.
The outdoor venue’s central gathering space for dining and socializing will be named Prebys Plaza in honor of the late Conrad Prebys and The Conrad Prebys Foundation, which contributed $15 million to the symphony. Of that amount, $12.5 million was designated for construction costs.
The performance area is being named the Una Davis Family Stage, in honor of symphony board member Davis. Her $10 million contribution in early 2019 came seven months before ground was broken at the bayside site and provided key momentum for the soon-to-open venue, which is located at Embarcadero Marina Park South.
“We are very proud,” San Diego Symphony CEO Martha Gilmer told the Union-Tribune. “It’s a magnificent undertaking, and we are extremely grateful to these cultural leaders who have given so generously — not just to the symphony, but to the community at large.”
The four biggest contributions alone account for $51 million of the $98.7 million raised by the nonprofit orchestra in its $125 million capital campaign. It was launched to finance the symphony’s artistic and community programs, most notably the new $85 million year-round venue, and to help ensure the symphony’s future.
Money brought in by the campaign will also help cover infrastructure improvements at downtown’s Copley Symphony Hall at the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Music Center, the symphony’s currently shuttered indoor home.
Gilmer anticipates announcing the other donors — who have contributed the other $47.7 million raised thus far — during the lead up to this summer’s opening of The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park.
‘The Future is Hear’
A public fundraising campaign, “The Future is Hear,” will be launched today to raise the remaining $26.3 million needed to complete the $125 million capital campaign.
“It is an incredibly overwhelming feeling to announce that we have already raised nearly $100 million for this project,” Gilmer said. “It speaks to the remarkable generosity of these individuals, who have contributed so much to doing something so good in this world through their philanthropic support for our cultural life in San Diego.”
The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park is scheduled to kick off its debut season this summer with a concert featuring symphony music director Rafael Payare conducting the orchestra. A full season announcement is pending. On May 21, the symphony will stream “What’s That Sound? First Music from the Shell,” which features members of the orchestra performing music by Mozart and Wagner.
The 10,000-capacity venue was originally scheduled to open with a 34-concert lineup last July, when it was known simply as The Shell. The coronavirus pandemic shutdown led to the entire 2020 inaugural season being canceled and to some construction delays.
Disappointed but undaunted, Gilmer and the symphony’s staff quietly continued their capital campaign, which is not being formally announced until today. The nearly $100 million raised by the symphony so far is all the more notable since San Diego is home to only two Fortune 500 companies: wireless technology giant Qualcomm, which was co-founded here in 1985 by Irwin Jacobs; and Sempra, the parent of utility San Diego Gas & Electric.
In 2002, Jacobs and his wife, Joan, announced they were donating $120 million to fuel the 111-year-old symphony’s endowment fund. That remains the largest individual donation ever made to a symphony orchestra in the United States, topping the $90 million given to Miami’s New World Symphony in 2007 by an anonymous donor. The Jacobs have donated hundreds of millions of dollars to higher education, medical research, health services and the arts in San Diego.
Ernest Rady is the chairman, president and CEO of San Diego-based real estate powerhouse American Assets Trust, Inc. He and his wife, Evelyn, have donated at least $400 million to Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego and $140 million to UC San Diego. The symphony’s new venue is the latest beneficiary of their magnanimity.
“We are supporting this project because of the impact we believe it will have on our city and our region — welcoming both our residents and our visitors,” Ernest Rady said in a statement.
“This is a venue that will not only feature our amazing orchestra and preeminent artists but also be a public park with programming for families, school children, and individuals on the beautiful landscape surrounded by San Diego Bay with our city’s skyline in full view. We cannot wait to be a part of the first performances and see the joy it will bring to so many.”
Irwin Jacobs, who 18 years ago proposed the symphony build a permanent open-air venue, is equally enthused.
“The realization of The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park has exceeded our wildest imagination,” Jacobs said in a statement. "Its beauty and proximity to the bay and the city are unique. What we are truly excited about is the acoustic magnificence of the venue, showcasing our marvelous orchestra and its guests with truly excellent sound.”
The venue, which will be managed by the symphony, will be available throughout the year for use by non-profit community groups, schools and individuals. It will be accessible to the public, free of charge, for approximately 85 percent of the year,
“We are thrilled to support the park that is The Rady Shell’s home, which will be open for everyone to enjoy, both during concerts and in the time in between,” Joan Jacobs said in a statement.
Una Davis, whose family the venue’s performance area is being named after, regards The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park as a soon-to-blossom cultural attraction that will appeal to residents and visitors alike. That view is shared by symphony CEO Gilmer, who proudly notes that only a fraction of the venue’s $85 million cost — $50,000 from the San Diego Unified Port District — comes from a government source.
“I am delighted to see this venue come to life,” Davis said in a statement. “From the stage where the music is made, to the lawn where people will enjoy their family picnics and games, to the magnificent views of our bay and our city, I know it will be a tremendous asset to our downtown. I am so proud to be part of making this dream possible."
The other donors, who the symphony will be publicly recognizing in coming months, contributed amounts ranging from $500 to $2.5 million during what Gilmer describes as “the quiet phase” of the fundraising campaign. “The Future is Hear” public campaign is open to donations of any size over the next three to five years.
Contributions of $10,000 or more will be listed and enshrined on a Donor Appreciation Wall at The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park. Large contributions will receive recognition at various locations at the venue. More information is available online at sandiegosymphony.org/campaign and via email at email@example.com.
While the capital campaign now shifts to its public phase, Gilmer is quick to note: “That doesn’t mean we don’t soon hope to have another gift of over $10 million.”
Moreover, she added: “There are a number of recognition opportunities at various levels. And while we believe there will be a lot of momentum between now and the opening of The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, we know there are people who will want to contribute after they come and see what an exciting venue this is.”
Sign up for the Pacific Insider newsletter
PACIFIC magazine delivers the latest restaurant and bar openings, festivals and top concerts, every Tuesday.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Pacific San Diego.