Valentine fund-raisers reach $6.5 million goal; Theater will not need more county money

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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After three years of effort – and thousands of checks big and small – the Valentine Theatre’s capital campaign has reached its $6.5 million fund-raising goal.

“We’re absolutely thrilled,” said Jim White, Jr., a lawyer with Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, who chaired the fund-raising effort. “We’ve gotten a very positive response from the public sector and generous gifts from corporations, foundations, and individuals.”

The 103-year-old Valentine, on St. Clair Street downtown, is being renovated at a cost of nearly $28 million. The state of Ohio has provided $18.5 million of that total, and $2.75 million has come in noncash gifts from the city of Toledo and other sources.

The Toledo Cultural Arts Center, the organization that will run the theater, was charged with raising the remaining $6.5 million. Yesterday, officials announced that they have reached that goal.

“I couldn’t be happier,” said Dale Vivirito, the Valentine’s executive director.

The fund-raising success means that Lucas County taxpayers will not have to foot any more of the bill for the theater’s renovation.

Under state matching rules, the art center could not receive all of the state’s contribution for the project until it had raised its entire $6.5 million commitment. But in June, the Lucas County commissioners pledged to make up for any shortfall in the theater’s fund-raising, enabling the state funds to be released in full a few months early.

The announcement means that the county will not have to contribute any additional money to the 899-seat theater.

At a party last night to celebrate reaching the fund-raising goal, Carroll Ashley, chairman of the arts center board, noted that it has been a long struggle to save the Valentine Theatre.

“This project may go down as one of the longest running in history,” he said. “There are some folks who have been working on it for 20 years.

“You can have lots of plans and enthusiasm. But the tough part is getting the money. It takes a lot of hard work. But we have done it.”

Funding has come from a variety of sources. In 1995, Blade Communications, Inc., made the first large donation, contributing $500,000. Later in the year, Lucas County gave a gift of $1 million. The city was a significant player in the fund-raising drive, appropriating $1.1 million to buy land for a plaza, as well as providing some of the services to build it.

Those contributions and others from corporations such as Dana Corp., Owens-Illinois, Inc., and Chrysler helped raise the matching money that was required to get the state funds. For every $2 of state money received, $1 had to be given in local contributions.

The Valentine was once home to the largest stage between New York and Chicago, and hosted many of the world’s top talents during its heyday. But it fell into disuse and, after its closure in 1976, was targeted to be torn down several times.

But a two-decade-long campaign, along with the funding from the state, county, and city, has allowed the theater to return, and downtown leaders hope the Valentine will be a centerpiece for a renaissance in the central business district. Its doors will reopen at a gala event on Oct. 9.

The campaign has raised $6.88 million so far, according to development director Halle Bruening. It was pushed over the top by a strong response to its membership drive and a large anonymous gift from a southeast Michigan foundation, she said. Mr. White held a party last night at his home for major donors and those who helped with the fund-raising effort.

He cautioned that the job of fund-raising is not complete. Theater-backers are hoping to raise $400,000 to $500,000 in the coming months to pay for several improvements, including an additional concession area, film projectors, and a small performance space on the fifth floor.

But Mr. Vivirito said he will let his fund-raisers take a break before getting into the search for that final sum.

“They deserve a pause to celebrate the fruits of their labor,” he said. “They’ll come to the opening, and hopefully be amazed at what’s been done and be proud at their role.

“And then we’ll put them back to work,” he laughed.