Johnson Hall Capital Campaign Director Carrie Arsenault, left, and Executive Artistic Director Michael Miclon unveil the Raise the Curtain campaign for the historic opera house with a matching challenge gift of $250,000 from Peter and Sandra Prescott and Team EJP Friday at Gardiner’s Johnson Hall. Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Jessica Lowell

GARDINER — A match challenge gift of $250,000 to the Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center announced Friday is launching the final phase of fundraising for the historic opera house, with construction planned to begin in April 2022.

Michael Miclon, executive artistic director at Johnson Hall, made the twin announcements Friday standing in front of the stage in the theater that’s slated for renovation.

“The amazing Peter Prescott, along with his lovely wife, Sandra, and Team EJP have presented us with a challenge gift of $250,000,” Miclon said. “Every donation you give will be doubled up to $250,000. Peter said: ‘Tell the people to spend my money.'”

At this point, Miclon said, Johnson Hall has reached 85% of its $5.5 million fundraising goal and has $850,000 left to raise, which can be done through a variety of opportunities.

The announcement was greeted by cheers from those assembled to hear Pat Colwell and the Soul Sensations after the first Free Waterfront Concert of the season was moved inside because of Friday’s rain.

A rainy view of Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center on Water Street in downtown Gardiner. A matching grant has been announced as part of the center’s fundraising campaign. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“This news is so exciting, because I know how much you all support the arts and how much you support Gardiner and support each other,” Gardiner Mayor Patricia Hart said. “This new news will only help us have more opportunities to gather, to celebrate and to enjoy the arts and all that Johnson Hall has to offer.”

Miclon has been working toward reopening the upper theater with 400 seats since he was hired by Johnson Hall eight years ago, by building the annual roster of shows in the studio theater on the ground floor, adding the free summer concert series and building audiences along the way.

A rainy view of Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center on Water Street in downtown Gardiner. A matching grant has been announced as part of the center’s fundraising campaign. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Johnson Hall is the oldest opera house in Maine. In addition to its live shows, Johnson Hall operates Spark, a summer theater camp for children and an artist-in-residency program that brings entertainers to Gardiner-area schools.

In addition to building out the new theater, construction plans also include building a lobby and green rooms, and adding an elevator and a concession stand.

While the initial goal was to be open by now, the global COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting increase in the cost of construction and materials contributed to the delay. But during that time, Johnson Hall has been working to secure other funds to meet its goal, including a commitment of $150,000 from the Gardiner City Council, a grant of nearly $390,000 from the Northern Border Regional Commission, and a request for $350,000 in federal funding through the Community Project Funding Program through the office of U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine.

At the core of the fundraising is the commitment by Kennebec Savings Bank to buy the historic preservation tax credits the project qualifies for, and to offer both construction financing and pledge financing packages in addition to a donation of $100,000.

Miclon is currently booking shows for Johnson Hall’s 2021-22 season, which will come with a twist. Because of the start of construction in April, the final shows of the season as well as the following season will be held at other venues around the region as a Johnson Hall on the Road series. Where those shows will be held will be announced later.

Construction is expected to take between 11 and 15 months.

“This is the point where every donation matters,” Miclon said last week. “Every donation gets doubled. Every donation becomes majorly significant for us.”

 

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