It was fitting that there was drama.
Leaders with Theatre Lawrence announced on Thursday that a flurry of last-minute donations pushed its fundraising effort past their $6.2 million goal, ensuring the organization would not lose a pair of key grants that came with a Sept. 30 deadline.
“It has been like Christmas every day,” Mary Doveton, executive director of Theatre Lawrence, said. “The last couple of weeks have literally produced hundreds of thousands of dollars. It has been so gratifying to see people respond.”
Amidst a celebration of streamers and champagne, members of the group — formerly known as the Lawrence Community Theater — announced they had raised $6,486,000. That will be enough to follow through on plans to build a 300-seat theater in the Bauer Farm development near Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive. Doveton estimated construction will begin this winter with completion in 12 to 15 months.
The new theater will replace the group’s existing home, a former church building at 15th and New Hampshire streets. The 300-seat theater will be nearly double the size of the current facility, and also will feature many more off-street parking spaces and more room for children’s programming.
“We think this new theater really will help cement Lawrence’s reputation as a unique community and one that really supports the arts,” said Lawrence architect Mike Treanor, who along with Lawrence businessman Doug Compton and other partners donated the $725,000 piece of land for the project.
The organization also highlighted several other donors. They included:
• Tensie Oldfather, a longtime Lawrence philanthropist who donated $1 million prior to her death in 2007.
• Mabel Woodyard, a Phoenix businesswoman and the sister of the late George Woodyard, a longtime board member of the community theater and a former Kansas University dean of international studies. Mabel Woodyard’s estate made a $1 million donation to the project in 2008.
• Bobby and Eleanor Patton, a Lawrence couple who both were involved professionally in theater in film. Bobby Patton also is former chair of communication and theater at KU and former president of Central Missouri State University. The couple made a $340,000 pledge to the project.
• The Beach Foundation, a regional philanthropic organization founded by Ross and Marianna Beach, who were active in Lawrence as owners of Douglas County Bank. The foundation donated $300,000.
The Lawrence City Commission and the Douglas County Commission also each pledged $100,000 to the project over the next five years. Theater leaders in early September asked city commissioners for assistance, saying the campaign had just under $500,000 to raise by the end of the month.
Thursday’s numbers showed the theater ultimately raised enough money to meet the fundraising goal without the $200,000 in public money. But just barely, and Doveton said she thinks the public money played a critical role in the decision of several last-minute donors.
“The city and county’s support was great because it got us on people’s radar, and it was an important vote of confidence,” Doveton said. “Right up until the end, people weren’t convinced we were going to make it.”