Medford residents may think they've stepped back in time next spring after the Holly Theatre gets a much- needed face lift, thanks to a $100,000 grant from city officials.

Medford residents may think they've stepped back in time next spring after the Holly Theatre gets a much- needed face lift, thanks to a $100,000 grant from city officials.

The Medford Urban Renewal Agency board on Thursday unanimously approved a matching grant that will be part of $612,030 in preliminary repairs to the1930 theater designed by local architect Frank Clark.

With the promised grant in hand, Jefferson Public Radio Foundation officials say they will have more leverage in their fundraising efforts.

"I think it's an important statement for the city of Medford to support the project," said Paul Westhelle, JPR's associate director.

The facade improvement grant will help pay for doors, a new entry, a new marquee and a neon "fin" sign on the building, located at the corner of Holly and Fifth streets.

Owned by Jefferson Public Radio, the Holly will be remodeled on the outside to look much as it did when it opened its doors more than 80 years ago.

The facade improvement will be the first step in an estimated $3.5 million renovation to upgrade the building to serve as a 1,000-seat performing arts center.

Westhelle said the JPR Foundation has enough cash flow from its Cascade Theatre in Redding, Calif. to cover the cost of the $200,000 in facade work. Once the facade is completed, MURA will reimburse JPR for the $100,000.

MURA has set aside $750,000 to pay for facade improvements to businesses in downtown Medford.

JPR has asked MURA if it could release an additional $200,000 in funds sooner rather than later to help pay for other repairs that will include fixing a broken truss that supports the roof.

Westhelle said JPR would need to step up its fundraising efforts to match the additional $200,000 the city could put into the project.

Once the facade and structural work are completed, Westhelle said, the next phase would require $2 million for electrical, plumbing and other infrastructure needed to make the interior functional.

The final phase will return the look of the interior of the building to its original design, he said.

The Holly project has proven controversial because supporters of the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater a half-dozen blocks away fear the competition could cause both theaters to fail.

But Holly supporters say the theater would bring in new shows and new audiences, with some of the shows coming to Medford after performing in JPR's Redding theater.

During the past two years, artists who performed in Redding but not in Medford included Merle Haggard, Robert Cray, Bryan Adams, The Manhattan Transfer, Jo Dee Messina, Bruce Hornsby, Joan Osborne, Clint Black and Bonnie Raitt.

These performers required a larger indoor venue than is available in Medford, according to JPR officials, who say the Holly would also offer films and theatrical performances.

So far, only $13,000 has been raised toward the Holly project, but Westhelle said the real fund-raising effort will now get under way, thanks to the city's commitment.

"We haven't gone after it really hard until we get the city behind it," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email dmann@mailtribune.com.