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updated: 8/20/2012 11:57 PM

West Dundee arts center project inches forward

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The West Dundee Village Board agreed to let an initiative to create a performing arts center downtown move forward after its supporters packed village hall Monday night.

Local architect Rick Browne wants to convert the old Ziegler's Ace Hardware, now owned by the village, into the Fox Performing Arts Center, a venue he says will revitalize downtown and host performances by local arts groups.

In March, the village asked Browne to raise $500,000 by July 30; on Monday evening, Brown told the board he had raised only about $222,000, but had recruited plenty of grass-roots support. A Friends of the Fox volunteer organization comprising 50 to 60 volunteers has applied for 501(c) 3 nonprofit status, and about 900 people have signed up online to support the project, he said.

The next phase of fundraising will target corporate donations, he said.

"We asked the group to come here tonight to prove their support, and they've obviously proved that tonight through the donations, through the attendance here tonight," Trustee Rebecca Gillam said.

Village President Larry Keller agreed but cautioned that the village doesn't want to spend money on the upkeep of the building if the initiative is not sustainable in the long term.

"I don't think anyone disputes that the possibility of a performing arts center is a huge positive for the community in the downtown area. I think the devil is in the details," Village Manager Joseph Cavallaro said.

The entire project is estimated to cost about $1.8 million, which Browne told the board he wants to raise by August 2014. Browne said he would lease the building from the village but might even buy it in the future.

Several people spoke in support of the project, including West Dundee resident Holly McNeill, a theater teacher at South Elgin High School.

"We brough a whole bunch of people to show you that we chose to live here, we pay good taxes, we play by the rules, and that the arts can only do benefit to this community," McNeill said.

Numerous local theater groups have stated their interest in renting space at the performing arts center, Browne said. Rich Geiger of Palatine, the artistic director for Vex Theatre Company in Elgin, said the Friends of the Fox volunteers know that fundraising must be the group's primary goal.

"There's been an outpouring of energy and activity around the project," Geiger said.

Tom Roeser, president and owner of Otto Engineering, has donated $50,000 to the cause, as has Browne's father, G.F. Browne, and Tom Wells of First American Bank, Browne said.

Trustee Patrick Hanley questioned whether such large, individual donations bode well for the project's sustainability, but Browne said that in the theater business, it's typical for 20 percent of donors to account for the majority of funds raised.

The board directed staff to draft a resolution extending Browne's fundraising deadline, and outlining in detail the village's financial obligations. The resolution will be on the agenda for the Sept. 17 board meeting, Cavallaro said.

"We have really overcome a big hurdle tonight," Browne said.

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