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Anonymous donors give Town Hall Theater $500,000 matching grant

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August 6, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Anonymous donors have stepped forward with a $500,000 matching grant that would allow the curtain to fall on a seven-year effort to renovate Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater (THT) on Merchants Row.

Douglas Anderson, THT’s executive director, said theater boosters must match the grant, dollar for dollar, by Dec. 31, in order to collect. The resulting $1 million would pay for the balance of interior renovations to the historic building and allow it to open up to plays and other events next year.

“This grant, if we match it, will get us back in that building,” Anderson said on Friday. “It couldn’t have come at a better time.”

THT received official word of the grant offer on July 27. While Anderson could not reveal the donors’ names, he did say they are Addison County residents “who have been friends of the theater for some time.”

A letter from the donors’ lawyer, received in the THT offices on July 27, cites the project as “a catalyst for the community and its citizens.” The attorney said the grant will “provide you with additional leverage and an incentive for the community to put you over your goal.”

The organization has already raised more than $4.5 million to date. That money has been used to acquire the former Middlebury town hall from the Knights of Columbus (in 2000) and complete extensive renovations to its exterior.

The remaining $1 million would pay for a litany of improvements to the THT’s interior, including equipping it with new heating, air conditioning and fire safety systems; new bathrooms; an elevator to provide complete access to disabled patrons; a refurbished balcony with new seats; and theater seating risers that will retract, with the push of a button, into the wall.

Anderson is optimistic other donors will respond to the $500,000 challenge.

“My personal timetable is to raise the money during the next couple of weeks,” Anderson said.

Such a timetable would allow the final work to begin this fall with the potential for performances, wedding receptions and other special events to occur in the building next year.

“It’s all hands on deck,” said Anderson. “We’re trying every trick we know, and we have to move fast. Our volunteers are really motivated.”

Leading the capital campaign are Bruce Baker and Peggy Keith. The duo have already had great success with a countywide mailing — designed by local graphic artist Sam Trudel — that featured a transparent envelope revealing an impressive photo of the newly-restored THT exterior.

That mailing has clearly paid dividends, as the THT has already almost sold out sponsorship opportunities for 49 theater seats at $500 each. Moreover, area businesses have offered to provide staging, lighting and tiling work at cost.

Anyone interested in donating to the THT effort should call 388-1436.

All of a sudden, the opening of the Town Hall Theater is no longer a far-off goal.

“I think a lot about our re-opening,” Anderson said. “What a party that will be.”

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