Stuart's Lyric Theatre sets $3 million fundraising goal to pay off debt

Friday, December 21, 2012

By Isadora Rangel
Posted December 21, 2012 at 10:56 p.m., updated December 21, 2012 at 11:36 p.m.

STUART — The Lyric Theatre has launched a three-year campaign to raise $3 million to help pay off its mortgage debt, renovate the downtown venue and expand educational programs.

The campaign kicked off Tuesday, and donors already have pledged about $1.7 million, Executive Director John Loesser said.

The donations will help the nonprofit theater pay off about $650,000 in mortgage debt for its building. About $1 million will go toward revamping the theater's lobby and entrances on Flagler Avenue and Osceola Street, as well as replacing seating, painting the auditorium and installing new lighting.

Loesser also plans on using donations to pay for bringing more renowned and expensive artists to Stuart.

"If we know we have a reserve fund instead of finding sponsors, then we can go ahead and commit those big artists," Loesser said. "We would be able to underwrite that cost to the point that we have affordable ticket prices."

Donors are all from Martin County, Loesser said. Philanthropist and retired social worker Elisabeth Lahti pledged $500,000, Loesser said. She donated money to the county's library system in the past and has a library

named after her in Indiantown.

Lyric Theatre board members Paul Shirley and Joan McGowan, along with her husband, Edward, have pledged $50,000 and $100,000 each. The Frances Langford Foundation has provided a $300,000 matching grant and The Lyric's board of directors has pledged $250,000. An anonymous donor has pledged $500,000, Loesser said.

Shirley said The Lyric will be able to fill up seats and attract more people and generate more money when it has the campaign money to bring bigger acts. He also said paying off its mortgage is critical for the theater to continue its operations.

"Sometimes we don't sell out all seats," he said. "Sometimes people are looking for stronger acts."

A third part of the money raised will help support community outreach programs. That includes providing more sessions of the theater's performing arts summer camps. The Lyric started the summer program last year and about 500 children participated over a six-week period at a cost of $100 a week. Loesser said donors helped to pay the tuition of 30 to 50 underprivileged students.

Money raised through the capital campaign would pay for more of those students, Loesser said, as well as add more camps throughout the year, such as after-school and holiday camps.

The additional money also would help to pay for artists who perform at The Lyric and teach at local schools while in Stuart. Every season, The Lyric Theatre pays for fees and expenses — sometimes with the help of sponsors — of two to three performers who are part of the artist-in-residence program. Flutist Nestor Torres and violinist Joshua Bell have participated in the past.

"We have to house them, feed them and arrange transportation," Loesser said. "All those things, The Lyric usually picks up the tab for it."

Loesser wants to double or triple the number of artists in the program.

The Lyric Theatre's last capital campaign in 2004 raised $1 million to expand the theater, improve its stage and build a backstage area, Loesser said.

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