A popular theater company in White Bear Lake has reached the halfway mark in its campaign to raise $6.2 million for a new performing arts center.
After more than 60 years in town, the Lakeshore Players Theatre has raised $3 million for the center in the past year, including a major gift from an anonymous donor that was used to purchase land alongside the still-new White Bear Center for the Arts.
“It makes sense to tag that part of town as our ‘arts district,’ ” said Mayor Jo Emerson.
The theater company hopes to raise another $1 million by spring, then break ground next year and open in September 2017. Dance, music and other performing arts groups could use the space as well.
The Lakeshore Players were “approached by two other cities wanting to have us move there,” said Executive Director Joan Elwell. “Hugo and Shoreview had really nice locations.”
But after the retiring owner of a garden store and nursery occupying 2.75 acres approached the group about selling the property, “even the people from Hugo and Shoreview said, ‘Yeah, you need to be there,’ ” Elwell said.
A $1.2 million gift covered the purchase.
The arts center next door, another private nonprofit, wrapped up its $3.5 million building project in 2013. In the facility’s first year, it saw a 50 percent jump in class registrations, officials there have said.
The Lakeshore Players group operates out of a former Swedish Lutheran church built in 1889. It expects to triple its number of performances in a new facility.
Unlike arts centers in some cities that are more grand but drew controversy over public spending, the White Bear Lake facility is being funded with “strictly private donations,” Elwell said, “individuals and small foundations; we’re cultivating larger foundations now.”
Plans call for two performance spaces: a 240-seat main stage and a smaller “black box” theater.
City officials see the project as a chance to enhance economic development, the mayor said.
“It’s a draw that will lead to people discovering our restaurants, our ‘real’ downtown, and the rest of what we offer,” Emerson said.