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Wheaton Grand Theater fundraising efforts launch as building plan released

Published: Tuesday, May 21, 2013 6:00 a.m. CDT

WHEATON – When community members joined together May 9 to discuss fundraising ideas to bring the Wheaton Grand Theater, or the “Miracle on Hale Street” to life, there was no shortage of big ideas, said Rick Erickson, one of the driving forces behind the project.

The current expected cost of the theater renovation project is about $5 million, and one fundraiser developed to help reach that amount is a $100,000 raffle that launched Saturday.

Only 1,000 tickets are available at $100 each as part of the raffle. Several downtown restaurants will have tickets available for purchase, and those who purchase tickets will have the chance to win as much as $10,000. The person or business who sold the winning ticket also will win $1,000.

After the winnings and costs have been subtracted, the raffle will raise about $80,000 for the Wheaton Grand Theater.

Other expected fundraising efforts include an early screening of the family-friendly movie “The Ultimate Life” in late summer and the theater team’s participation in the upcoming Taste of Wheaton, which runs May 30 through June 2.

Community members have also suggested some sort of run or flash mob along the Prairie Path, Erickson said.

For the meeting May 9, Erickson reached out to Wheaton Warrenville South and Wheaton North high schools to see if some student leaders wanted to get involved with the theater efforts. Several students attended the meeting and expressed their interest in possibly hosting a fundraising competition between the two schools or helping out in some other way.

The theater team also continues to explore grant options and will look into the possibility of launching an online Kickstarter campaign, Erickson said.

This effort to re-open the Wheaton Grand began in fall 2011, when Erickson, president of Bold Steps, Inc., in downtown Wheaton, founded the “Wheaton Junto” with other community leaders looking to improve the city. The Wheaton Junto adopted the vacant, historic theater as its main project and brainstormed ideas for what could be done with the space.

Jim Atten, a lifelong Wheaton resident and owner of other properties in the city, purchased the theater on Nov. 30, and since then, he’s been busy working with architectural firm Kolbrook Design, Inc., on a plan for the building.

An architectural concept plan was released to theater supporters last week. It also now hangs in one of the theater’s front windows for the public to see.

The plan is about 95-percent complete, and a few versions that differ slightly from each other will be presented to the Wheaton City Council once the plan is ready, Erickson said.

Besides completing plan drafts for the city council, next steps include condensing fundraising ideas and developing plans and teams to make them a reality. The theater team continues to spread the word about their efforts to the rest of the Wheaton community to help get as many people involved as possible.

Overall, Erickson is optimistic about the theater’s future as efforts continue to move forward.

“Once we get that all buttoned down, I can’t see us losing,” he said.

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