Leaders of the Capri Theater have decided that the future is now. Rather than wait for a capital campaign to reach its goal of at least $9 million, the organization announced Wednesday it will use about $600,000 for immediate improvements.

"I want this to be our Apollo," said Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, referring to the famed Harlem showhouse. The Capri, where Prince gave his first professional concert, is the last theater in north Minneapolis. It is operated by the Plymouth Christian Youth Center as a venue for music and theater. Rybak is honorary chairman of the capital campaign. Janet Anderson and T. Mychael Rambo head the effort, which has collected more than $2 million in pledges so far -- including $1 million from the Best Buy Children's Foundation.

"The key is to get started with some infrastructure things so we can use the space to greater effect," said Karl Reichert, the Capri's director. Current funds will be spent on lights and sound, acoustical improvements, a remodeled and expanded lobby and an upgraded exterior marquee. Reichert's artistic associates are Kevin West and Dennis Spears, well-known in theatrical and musical circles.

Renovation will start in midspring and Spears will reopen the space June 20 with Charmin Michelle and Debbie Duncan singing in his Legends program -- featuring the music of Joe Williams, Lena Horne and Ella Fitzgerald. Before the theater closes for the project, Sanford Moore, Tonia Hughes, Greta Oglesby and Yolande Bruce will perform Feb. 7.

Spears said Wednesday that the Capri is eager to rent out the theater to local arts groups. Rybak called the project a centerpiece of art development in north Minneapolis. The Capri, which has 235 seats, was built in 1927. It was donated to the Plymouth Christian Youth Center in the 1980s.

Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299