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Beverly Arts Center Raises $1.1 Million, Secures Future on Southwest Side

 The Beverly Arts Center at 2407 W. 111th St. has raised $1.1 million since September as part of a fundraising effort dubbed the BAC Challenge. The once-struggling arts center hopes to collect and additional $500,000 by Aug. 31.
Beverly Arts Center Sets New Fundraising Goal
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MORGAN PARK — Imagine paying 90 percent of your mortgage in one year.

Officials with the Beverly Arts Center hope to do exactly that and are counting on friends, neighbors and donors to make it happen.

"This year has been great to get us out of crisis mode," said Heather Ireland Robinson, who was named the Beverly Arts Center's executive director five months ago.

The community art center at 2407 W. 111th St. already has raised $1.1 million since September as part of a fundraising effort dubbed the BAC Challenge.

The money raised is more than double the initial goal of $500,000 over a one-year period. That target was tied to a debt restructuring provided by Fifth Third Bank.

A check was delivered to the Cincinnati-based bank on Thursday. By meeting the goal ahead of schedule, Fifth Third agreed to forgo $2 million in outstanding mortgage debt.

The deal was struck late last summer after Mayor Rahm Emanuel stepped up with a $250,000 bailout plan for the 40,000-square-foot arts center. State Rep. Fran Hurley (D-35th) also secured $100,000 to apply toward the loan.

The additional $647,000 raised thus far from the BAC Challenge will be used to further pay down the mortgage debt, leaving the arts center owing $1 million. That's less than a year after the Beverly Arts Center was staring down a seemingly insurmountable $4.7 million tab, said Ald. Matthew O'Shea (19th).

"It's a testament to this community," O'Shea said.

Indeed, 1,285 individuals and businesses already have supported the BAC Challenge, many enticed by the opportunity for a four-for-one donation being offered by the bank's pledge.

The three largest donors include the Baffes family, owners of the neighborhood grocery store County Fair Foods, as well as local residents Gary and Denise Gardner and Lori and Ed McGunn. Combined these three donors already have pitched in more than $300,000 toward the securing the arts center.

However, the BAC Challenge technically still has a month to go. O'Shea and Robinson are setting another ambitious goal — raising an additional $500,000 by Aug. 31.

"You have to set a goal. You have to put a number out there," O'Shea said.

If the Beverly Arts Center hits its latest target, organizers would owe a mere $539,000 on the building that once seemed doomed by debt.

"It would allow us to focus on what the center is here for ... which is the arts," Robinson said.

O'Shea said some potential donors were hesitant to support the BAC Challenge at the onset, fearing they might be throwing their money away. With the initial goal met, he hopes those same benefactors will reconsider.

He and Robinson also hope that some of the same donors who initially supported the arts center decide to increase their contribution.

"There are some folks I think we can even guilt into giving," O'Shea said.

Regardless, it seems the community arts center with its 400-person theater will remain part of the Southwest Side neighborhood for the long term.

Both O'Shea and Robinson are confident that the Beverly Arts Center's greatest financial struggles are in the past. And, they fully expect to avoid future financial pitfalls.

"We know how close we came to losing it," O'Shea said.

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