Retiring Time Inc. executive Ralph P. Davidson will likely be named today to succeed Roger L. Stevens as chief executive officer and chairman of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, according to members of the Kennedy Center board.

Davidson, 59, currently chairman of the publishing empire's executive committee, was chosen by a search committee after an exhaustive two-year talent hunt. In the probable event that the Kennedy Center's trustees ratify the choice at today's board meeting, he is expected to become president and chief executive officer on Feb. 1 and assume the chairmanship on July 1, after Stevens formally retires.

"That's about right," said Stevens, 77, a millionaire real estate developer and theatrical producer who has presided over the cultural emporium on the Potomac since its inception in 1961. "It's likely to happen. It's going to come up, but I don't see how I can discuss it."

Davidson could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Unlike the laconic Stevens, who has worked without salary, Davidson, who reportedly negotiated a $4 million-plus early-retirement package with Time, will be paid for his labors. Kennedy Center trustee Alice Marriott, who said she approved of the choice, revealed he would receive $125,000 annually, $25,000 more than the usually stated ceiling of $100,000, "and a lot of perks -- a car and driver, travel expenses and whatever else."

Asked if Davidson is worth that amount, Marriott said, "I hope so."

Davidson, who has spent 33 years at Time, has been a member of the board of directors of the New York City Ballet, was chairman of the Business Committee of the Arts, and can claim some artistic expertise through his involvement with Time Inc.'s Home Box Office. But he lacks Stevens' hands-on artistic experience.

"I don't know what he knows about the theater or the arts," said a Kennedy Center trustee who asked not to be named. "I would hope he has a plan to bring in creative people, people in the arts who will be more involved in programming the decisions that Roger Stevens has made.

"I think we've been fortunate in the case of Roger -- a businessman and a fundraiser and also somebody with an understanding of theater, all in one person ... I want to know what {Davidson's} plans are. What is his platform?"

Trustee Joan Mondale was less reserved in her enthusiasm.

"At the last board meeting, we talked about him and his credentials and he was presented in the very best of lights, and I'm very excited about having him take over this job," she said. "He's administering a huge operation, and those skills are important. He will have a lot of money-raising to do. I'm sure he's a wise person and can get expert advice."

"I didn't sit in on hardly any of the meetings {of the search committee}," Stevens said yesterday. "I don't know him very well. I'm not in a position to say what he might want."

Stevens said last May, when the Kennedy Center trustees authorized serious discussions with Davidson, "He doesn't profess to have great experience in the arts. But as one of the trustees said, he knows he doesn't and that makes him better to deal with."