GARDINER — Fundraising for the renovation of the Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center has reached a milestone, as cash and pledges now have surpassed $1 million.

Mike Miclon, executive artistic director of Johnson Hall, said with the fundraising and the projected income from the sale of historic preservation tax credits, the theater has reached 58 percent of its $4.8 million fundraising goal.

“The dream would be that a year from now we’re starting construction,” he said.

The pledge that pushed fundraising past the latest milestone came from Nate Cotnoir, a longtime volunteer with both Gardiner Main Street and the Gardiner Board of Trade.

“For me,” Cotnoir said, “Johnson Hall has been the key to the economic revitalization of downtown Gardiner and Gardiner in general. I was happy to do it. It was the easiest decision I have ever made.”

Cotnoir’s pledge joins a string of other donations, pledges and grants from foundations such as the Davis Foundation and the Morton-Kelley Charitable Trust that will help pay for the construction costs at the historic theater in downtown Gardiner.

Plans call for rebuilding the 400-seat theater that occupies the upper floors of Johnson Hall, Maine’s oldest opera house. The project includes building a lobby and concession area on the second floor along with performers’ dressing rooms and green rooms as well as a full-service box office and foyer on the ground floor. The Studio Theater, where Johnson Hall puts on its slate of shows now, will remain open after the renovation is completed.

Fundraising has been underway for a year and a half.

When theater officials kicked off the fundraising campaign, they did it in conjunction with Kennebec Savings Bank announcing its donation of $100,000 and its commitment to acquire the historic preservation tax credits.

Miclon said Kennebec Savings has fulfilled its cash pledge.

Even as theater officials are working to complete fundraising for construction, they also are securing funding for ongoing programs.

In recent months, employees at E.J. Prescott, the Gardiner-based supplier of water, sewer, drain and gas products, donated $7,500 to support Johnson Hall’s artists-in-residency program, which funds performances in local schools by artists appearing at the theater and provides scholarships for Spark, the summer theater day camp for children at Johnson Hall.

At the same time, the Newman’s Own Foundation has donated $10,000 for pre-planning for the artists-in-residency program for next year.

Even with these donations, the project sometimes suffers from a credibility gap. Board members are aware that previous attempts to renovate the theater stalled for a variety of reasons, including external factors no one could control, such as the economic downturn in 2007, which effectively squelched fundraising attempts before they were launched.

“I think this announcement will go a long way to allaying fears that this (project) is not real,” Cotnoir said.

Cotnoir, who did not disclose the amount of his pledge, said he has noted an interesting phenomenon in downtown Gardiner. Although the projected opening date is more than a year away, businesses seem to be gearing up for the opening of the theater and preparing to serve the needs of customers, including the reopening of Gerard’s Pizza and the opening of Two Gramps Brewing just across Johnson Park from the theater.

“That’s a testament to their optimism, and the success of the fundraising campaign,” he said.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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