TIPTON, Iowa — The first hurdle has been cleared for the Hardacre Theater's return.

The nonprofit Hardacre Theater Preservation Association has reached its goal to purchase the 98-year-old movie house, which was closed in August.

A purchase agreement for $96,100 was reached with the Cook family of Tipton, which has owned the theater for decades. Since a fundraising effort began in December, more than $114,000 has been collected.

Association vice president Will Valet said Tuesday that fundraising was behind schedule until two anonymous donations of $40,000 each arrived.

"We had a spike online and some other checks received, and eventually that got us up to our goal," he said.

Besides traditional means, the theater tried to raise money through the crowd-funding website IndieAGoGo.com. Although that goal was not reached, Valet said, the association will receive 91 percent of the money raised there.

Raising money to purchase the Hardacre, which includes two business spaces on either side of the theater and three apartments above it, only completes the first phase, Valet said.

Plans for the theater include:

  • Upgrading the projection equipment to accommodate digital equipment since a dwindling number of studios are producing 35 mm film prints.
  • Renovating the backstage, dressing rooms and acoustics to return the Hardacre, built as an opera house, to a performing arts space.
  • Creating a multipurpose space above the theater for community events, including an outdoor patio.
  • Rehabilitating the building to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and safety codes.

The IndieAGoGo fundraising effort brought attention to the town's theater from unlikely places, Valet said.

"It definitely helped us get the word out," he said. "We had donations from all over the world."

Likewise, it helped to get attention this week from a columnist on RogerEbert.com, a website continuing the mission of the late Chicago Sun-Times movie critic.

"We definitely saw a spike, that's for sure," Valet said. "Anytime you can get that kind of national coverage, it's fantastic.

"Our journey is not done," he added. "It's going to keep on going. Hopefully people will continue to listen to our message and support us."

Valet said the amount that will need to be raised is uncertain until bids for the improvement work are received.

The targeted deadline for completion is 2016.

"It sounds so far off, but it's not," Valet said. "Our hope is to have it reopened in time for its 100th birthday. It's going to take a long time.

"This is a several-million-dollar project, and we'll be going after grants and other funds. It's definitely going to be a long process," he said.