A foundation affiliated with Jefferson Public Radio has agreed to buy the Holly Theatre in Medford and plans to restore it as a performing arts center, similar to the Cascade Theatre it restored and operates in Redding, Calif.

A foundation affiliated with Jefferson Public Radio has agreed to buy the Holly Theatre in Medford and plans to restore it as a performing arts center, similar to the Cascade Theatre it restored and operates in Redding, Calif.

The JPR Foundation must raise $499,000 by March 15 to complete the purchase, Executive Director Ronald Kramer said.

"This offer is contingent on raising the money," he said, explaining the foundation will make the purchase only without taking on any debt.

He estimated that a complete, historic restoration of the theater likely would cost $3 million to $4 million, but a full analysis hasn't been done. No project timeline has been developed.

Preliminary evaluations of the condemned theater auditorium show the structure is in fairly solid condition, except for a failed roof truss and missing ceiling, which Kramer said can be replaced.

"It is a great theater and there's no other viable use for the building," he said.

Art Alfinito, who has owned the theater since 1996, first through a company called Val-Art and then through a family trust, long dreamed of restoring the theater for local shows.

"It's a beautiful theater," the 79-year-old Alfinito said. "It would be a great asset to remodel this theater and inspire youth who might want careers in the performing arts."

He, his son Art, and Steve Daneman, the real estate broker representing the Alfinito family, said the JPR Foundation is particularly well-suited to restore the theater. The organization has experience renovating and operating historic theaters as well as raising funds from varied community sources.

"We hope we will be seen as having good credentials," Kramer said.

He explained that the project will benefit from the foundation's experience restoring and operating Redding's Cascade Theatre. It was purchased in 1999 and opened in 2004.

The Holly restoration also meshes nicely with the mission of the radio station and its foundation to contribute to the educational and cultural life of communities across the region, Kramer said.

"We want to plant our flag and make this community as successful as it can be," he said of Medford.

Kramer said an authentically restored historic theater could invigorate another section of downtown Medford.

Since Southern Oregon University and the foundation took on the Cascade Theatre project in Redding in 1999, the Northern California city's downtown has seen "explosive growth and change," said Kramer, who credits some of the rebirth to the theater. The rise of new restaurants and a vibrant entertainment district, as well as the removal of a mall structure that enclosed portions of downtown, have all reinvigorated the neighborhood around the Cascade, he explained.

Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler thinks something similar could happen in Medford.

"It's a good boost for that end of town," he said of the Holly proposal. "When other businesses see activity like that, they want to add to it. It is very positive."

Wheeler said the city has drafted a letter of support for the purchase and will cooperate wherever possible to help smooth the way for what will likely be an extensive renovation.

The theater is in the city's historic district and will be eligible for facade improvement assistance from the Medford Urban Renewal Agency, he explained. City commissions on history and architecture also could offer expertise and help the foundation seek grants.

The city of Redding provided nearly $650,000 to the Cascade project. Wheeler said that's unlikely here under current economic conditions.

The JPR Foundation plans to reach out to a broad-based group of government agencies and private sources to find support for the project.

Kramer said he expects the project to attract supporters interested in revitalizing Medford's downtown as well as those interested in historic preservation and boosting arts and cultural events.

He said the theater would complement rather than compete with the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater and Britt Festivals. With an anticipated 1,000 seats, it would provide a larger space than the Craterian and could find its own niche producing concerts, presenting film events and high-definition broadcasts of opera and radio shows and being available for traveling and local acts to rent. It also might include rehearsal and lecture space.

Kramer has met with representatives of the Craterian and Britt to discuss plans for the Holly.

In a statement released by the foundation, Britt Festivals Executive Director Jim Fredericks said Southern Oregon is a center for the performing arts and a restored Holly Theatre would only enhance that. Craterian Executive Director Stephen McCandless pointed out that the community has embraced the Craterian's mission and he wished the latest theater-rejuvenation project good luck. Reach reporter Anita Burke at 541-776-4485 or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.
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