A former church in Windsor is on its way to becoming a community theater, following a successful initial fund-raising campaign.
Backers of the theater said they have raised more than $65,000 to transform the building into a venue for plays, concerts, poetry readings and more.
"It's a great way to ring in 2014. I'm super excited," said Karen Alves, part of a six-member Windsor founders' committee seeking to make the theater a reality.
Windsor currently has no performing arts theater, other than one at Windsor High School used almost exclusively for student events.
Supporters say the building, formerly occupied by the New Beginnings Ministry of Love Church, can serve as a 100-seat flexible space, and accommodate musicals, dramas, youth and poetry recitals, forums and speakers, classes, comedy night and films.
It will be operated under the auspices of the Raven Performing Arts Theater in Healdsburg, which had been looking for a second location beyond the 450-seat former movie house it occupies in downtown Healdsburg.
Dubbed the Raven Theater Windsor, backers say the location on Windsor River Road will allow the Raven to broaden its programming to include activities better suited to an intimate setting in a family-oriented community, and to enhance its ability to provide theater training programs.
"It's very exciting. This is like a pivotal point for Windsor," Alves said. "Art is very important to every community. It makes life better."
Windsor officials and business owners have expressed enthusiasm with having a new community amenity downtown, providing a potential stimulating economic effect on restaurants and stores.
"It's proven when people go to the theater they either like to get a bite to eat before or after, or like to have a drink after the show," said Laurie Shimizu, a member of the theater founders' committee who owns a custom jewelry store downtown.
"Once they come to a restaurant and see what the downtown has to offer, it will bring a whole new clientele," she said of the patrons who will help stoke business.
She said a theater for Windsor is long overdue, but the timing is perfect with the rebounding economy. "Things are definitely picking up down here. People are getting excited about getting out of the house and doing things," she said.
Shimizu said organizers are planning a first theatrical production in February of the play "Love Letters," which features actors portraying a couple reading letters to each other written over a lifetime.
She said the hope is to stage the play by Valentine's Day with four performances in February.
The production will serve as a fund-raiser for the non-profit organization, which will need to rely on continued contributions.
Organizers said the $15,500 initial fund-raising goal on the website Kickstarter was met in early December.
Alves said additional contributions from other sources brought the total to more than $65,000, including some single donations of $500 to $1,000.
"It went in leaps and bounds," she said, adding that money poured in from "people who realized, 'My goodness. This is really going to happen. These people are serious.'"
The funds will pay for new seating in the former church, a sound system and also allow the bathrooms to be accessible to the disabled, according to Alves.
Other expenses, according to the website for the Raven Windsor start-up campaign, include a sign, lease signing, paint and drapes, and creating an operational reserves of almost $25,000.
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