Gift only covers 25% of Virginia's renovation project

Gift only covers 25% of Virginia's renovation project

CHAMPAIGN – Even with Michael Carragher's $1 million gift to the Virginia Theatre restoration fund, the Champaign Parks Foundation estimates it will need $3 million more to complete the entire renovation project.

Mr. Carragher's gift will be spent mainly to remodel the front lobby and concession area. The bids for that work will be let after the first of the year, and the work will begin in mid-June and last through October.

The estimated $3 million still needed would go to renovate the entire auditorium, the upper lobby and a couple of dressing rooms in the lower level, said Laura Auteberry, director of marketing and developing for the Champaign Park District.

The entire Virginia renovation will cost from $5 million to $6 million; the park district, which owns the vintage theater, won't know the total until the architectural designs are completed.

Westlake Reed Leskosky, a Cleveland firm that specializes in historic structures, is in charge of the project.

Already, the district has spent about $1.5 million on renovations, among them bringing the 1921 theater up to life and health safety codes.

Other completed work includes a women's restroom in the lower level, a handicapped restroom on the main floor and fixing up the box office and east lobby, or east storefront.

The district also has saved some donations to replace the marquee.

A few years ago, the park district received a $900,000 Illinois First Grant to pay for renovations at the Virginia. Auteberry doesn't expect any further grant money to pour in, due to the economy.

"We'll certainly be keeping our eyes out for any opportunity," she said. "There is money in the (Illinois) capital bill currently designated for the Virginia. Whether or not we get that money remains to be seen. We are encouraging our legislators."

Approved by both the Illinois House and Senate, the state budget designates $200,000 for the Virginia and another $200,000 in general for the park district – it too would go to the Virginia.

On Tuesday evening at the theater, the Champaign Parks Foundation hosted a tribute to Mr. Carragher for 200 some invited guests. After that, the foundation received $200 in donations through the mail, Auteberry said.

People at the tribute voiced strong support for the restoration, and some expressed interest in helping.

"So we will be following up with that," she said.

The park district acquired the Virginia in 2000; three years later it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2001, the Friends of the Virginia formed to raise money for the project, naming Roger Ebert as their honorary chairman.

"I'm really thrilled the community is getting behind it and saving it and preserving it, because you cannot duplicate this kind of building today," Ebert said then.

His annual film festival, a special event of the University of Illinois College of Media, has taken place there since 1999.

In 2005, the Champaign Parks Foundation formed, also to raise money for the Virginia project.

Donations for the theater may be sent to the Champaign Parks Foundation, 706 Kenwood Drive, Champaign, IL 61821.

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