Bookstore owner's gift to Florida Studio Theatre completes fundraising goal
Thanks to an unanticipated $800,000 contribution from a single donor, Florida Studio Theatre has met its $6.8 million fundraising goal for the New Gompertz Theatre ahead of schedule and will head into its 2012-2013 season debt free.
And to think it all began with a decrepit bathroom.
Bookstore1Sarasota owner Georgia Court, who first visited FST in 2009 before becoming a Sarasota resident and was so appalled by the state of the Gompertz ladies room she was motivated to contribute to its renovation, last week notified Artistic Director Richard Hopkins that she would add an additional $800,000 to the $500,000 she had previously given, thus effectively retiring the capital campaign.
"It's a game changer for us, just amazing," said Hopkins, who added he "had no idea" the donation was coming. "We were looking at this remaining $800,000 and all of our major donors had already given, so we were really worried where it was going to come from. Now we can open debt free and can put our immediate efforts on making the theater sing. It's changed our lives."
Court, who serves on FST's board, said her previous donation was designated for new restrooms, as well as a lab theater that she asked bear her late husband's name. The additional donation goes to the cabaret theatre, which will now be called "The John C. Court Cabaret."
"I just decided, what the heck, why not go all the way and make a total investment in that theater because I value them so much," said Court of her decision last week. "I recognize their value to this community not just as an arts organization and an economic driver but because they are a huge part of what makes Sarasota a fabulous place to live. They are the heart."
Hopkins said he hopes to convince a very "modest" Court to allow the lab theatre to be named for herself, but that they are looking at several possibilities. Court is firm on the naming of the restrooms, however, which have already acquired the moniker "Georgia's Johns."
"The bathrooms were so bad, beyond awful," recalled Court of her initial visit. "I said if I ever move here, I better give these people some money to renovate these restrooms. That's how it really started."
Court moved to Sarasota shortly after her husband's death in March of 2009 and opened Bookstore One in 2011.
Asked if the sub-standard bathrooms were a standard fundraising ploy, Hopkins said a similar situation led to the renovation of FST's Keating Theatre 20 years ago.
"That fundraising technique has worked for us for two decades now," he joked. "People figure, 'If it's like this here, it must be terrible backstage!'"
Court said the funds she has been able to devote both to the bookstore and to FST did not come from her own career as an educator.
"Trust me, I did not make a lot of money teaching at the University of Cincinnati," she said. "You know how some people have a talent for art or music? My husband had a really good talent for making money."
John Court was involved in venture capital and, at his retirement, was CEO of Multi-color Corp., which provides package and labeling for consumer products like Tide and Colgate.
Hopkins said his organization is now in high gear to complete the renovation in time for the building's grand opening in November and the cabaret's debut in late December or early January. As for his gratitude to Court, he says even as a professional actor, he is speechless.
"I have not been able to find the words to say thank you because it's such a big thing," he said. "But thank you, Georgia, for the community, for the theater. Thank you for many decades to come."