Lynchburg theater restoration campaign passes fundraising goal

Published: May. 25, 2016 at 10:35 PM EDT
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Leaders who are trying to reopen an historic theater in Lynchburg have raised enough money to make their goal a reality.

A capital campaign to restore the Academy theater in downtown Lynchburg has surpassed its goal of $16.6 million dollars.

Fundraising started in 2012 and went into overdrive when George Dawson, the former CEO of Centra Health, took over as chair of the campaign last year.

The Academy theater was built in 1905 and closed in the 1950s.

Leaders of the theater's parent organization, the Academy Center of the Arts, plan to fast-track construction and hope to reopen the venue in 2018.


The Campaign to restore and reopen the historic Academy Theatre has raised $16.75 million, exceeding the original goal of $16.6 million that was established when the Campaign began in 2012. The Campaign will continue to seek and accept donations to reserve funds for contingencies, such as the impact of recent timing changes in the federal tax credit program, and to endow future Academy operations. Next month the Academy will begin the next phase in a fast-tracked construction schedule designed to reopen the historic Academy Theatre in 2018.

“The overwhelming community response is inspiring,” said Campaign Chair George Dawson. “It is a reminder what is possible when we come together.” Dawson noted that 1,044 individuals, companies, foundations, and organizations made donations to the campaign ranging from $1 to $1,000,000. In addition, the City of Lynchburg committed $2.3 million and the Lynchburg Economic Development Authority committed $600,000. The project also benefited from $186,000 in Industrial Revitalization Fund grant funding from the Virginia Department of Housing and Urban Development. Dawson noted that there is still time for those wishing to make a donation to the Campaign to do so. All Theatre commitments will be recognized when the Academy reopens, along with others who have contributed to Theatre campaigns over the years.

Board President Sackett Wood said “Thanks to the community’s extraordinary generosity and their confidence in our efforts to reopen the Academy Theatre, we have the funds needed to jump start construction while we arrange tax credit and related financing arrangements. We are excited to be able to take this step and keep the project on schedule.” Jamerson-Lewis Construction, the general contractor for the project, will begin site work, excavation, and installation of foundations and footings next month after completion of brick repointing and roofing repairs that have been underway since last year.

Campaign funds, together with the proceeds from Virginia and federal historic and New Markets Tax Credit programs, will be used to restore and equip the Theatre and construct adjacent lobby, restroom, utility and concession space. The total Project cost is budgeted at $29 million, $12.4 million of which will come from tax credits. Most of this tax credit funding is expected from the historic tax credit program, which has been successfully used to fund many projects in Lynchburg. In addition, the Academy is seeking an estimated $3 million in federal New Markets

Tax Credit funding. The New Markets program is designed to stimulate economic development and increase employment in downtown areas like Lynchburg.

On April 18th the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund, the federal agency that controls the release of New Market Tax Credit allocations, announced a new plan to combine this year’s and next year’s allocations. As a result the allocations nationally will be doubled from $3.5 billion to $7 billion, but the date of the allocation will be pushed back from July until late 2016. This announcement creates delays for the Academy’s New Market Tax Credit transaction. Campaign funds in excess of the original $16.6 million goal will be set aside to mitigate the uncertainties inherent in the New Markets program. The Academy has engaged an experienced team of historical preservation consultants as well as attorneys and certified public accountants to assist with the tax credit process.

Plans call for the Academy Theatre to be the venue for more than 150 performances, events and activities annually. In addition to presenting nationally recognized touring performances and serving as the premier venue for local arts and culture organizations, the Theatre’s schedule will include Academy produced performances, film series, live streaming entertainment, and allows myriad opportunities for rentals, business meetings and regional conferences.

The Academy of Music Theatre first opened in 1905 and quickly established a reputation as a top venue for nationally acclaimed performers. Legendary artists such as George M. Cohan, Will Rogers, Sarah Bernhardt, the Ziegfeld Follies, Ethel Barrymore, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Martha Graham, Eubie Blake, W.C. Handy, Louise Brooks, Maude Adams and Josephine Baker, among many others, performed to packed houses during the Theatre’s first 25 years. In the early 1930s the Theatre became the premier venue for sound motion pictures, but urban decline and growing preferences nationwide for television caused the Theatre to close in 1958. When demolition seemed imminent a decade later, a group of historic minded citizens saved the Theatre and made a number of needed improvements. Several subsequent efforts to restore the Theatre over the next 40 years were successful in preserving the structure but were unable to accomplish a full renovation.

In 2003 the nonprofit Academy of Music Theatre, Inc., which owned the Theatre merged with the Lynchburg Fine Arts Center to form the organization now named the Academy Center of the Arts. Today the Academy Center of the Arts, anchored by the historic Academy of Music Theatre, is greater Lynchburg’s multi-facility center for arts, culture and community building and occupies 1.25 blocks on Main Street in downtown Lynchburg.