Community Giving Award...

Community Connections Executive Director, Greg Puckett, left, honors Vicky Nelson Bridges with a Community Giving award for her patronage.

PRINCETON — A local contributor’s large donation will help move the renovations of a downtown theater closer to completion and help the downtown’s continuing renaissance, members of a local organization said this week.

Part of the ongoing work to revitalize Mercer Street in Princeton includes renovating the former Royal/LaVon theater, which has been renamed the Renaissance Theater, Greg Puckett, Executive Director with Community Connections and member of the Renaissance Blueprint Community team said.

“Originally when we purchased the former theater from Reverend Furchess with Jesus Victory Crusade, we were working to fundraise and continually do events to engage the local community,” Puckett said. “Unfortunately, with the onset of the polar vortex back in 2014, that timeline was permanently altered when multiple water lines burst, causing flooding and other problems throughout the theater. It was then we knew that we must start the gutting process much earlier than expected.”

Designs for the theater were constructed and a vision for a downtown movie theater and performance exposition center started to become reality. Both the Hunnicutt and Shott Foundations contributed funding to help start the restoration process and community donations became more crucial as time progresses, Puckett said.

“We pulled from every option necessary,” Puckett stated. “From the ‘Puckett in a Bucket’ fundraiser, numerous events downtown, loans, and simple community donations, we knew that every penny counts toward achieving our dreams.”

To date, the theater has utilized over $400,000 to gut the facility and solidify the structure from over 100 years of wear and tear. It has been completely reframed inside, a new roof has been installed and the former marquee was replaced due to the overwhelming stress that it placed on the façade. Now, with the help of local businesses, that dream may be on track to becoming a reality, Puckett said.

One such business, currently on Mercer Street, is Service Cleaners. This well-known institution has greeted customers and served our area with the same community spirit since 1947. Two years ago, after venturing back to her hometown from her current residence in Lake Norman, NC, Vicky Nelson Bridges, made a bold move to reinvest in her community, Puckett said.

“I can’t really describe it,” Bridges stated. “I spent the better part of my life here, and this street was where we cruised the strip, met our friends, and truly ‘grew up’. I worked at Service Cleaners and Mercer Street was the place to be. Although it took a turn for the worse over the years, Princeton is my home and I wanted to give back and make it better for the next generation to come.”

Bridges recalled that after driving downtown, and seeing all of the murals and events going on, she knew she had to do something. “I was at the Downtown Countdown event a few years ago, and I saw all of these families with kids enjoying time together. They were sipping hot chocolate, listening to music, and when the fireworks were shot off at midnight, their faces lit up with the colors from the sky. That’s what got me.”

Bridges, a registered nurse by profession, left that event and bought Service Cleaners. She then contacted Community Connections (the fiscal agent for the Renaissance Project and Theater), and requested a meeting to make a ‘significant’ contribution to restoration of the theater. Although the total amount has not been disclosed, Puckett said the contribution will make a ‘dent’ in the efforts to restore the theater.

“Let’s put it this way,” he said. “If every person that would donate even a portion of this contribution, we would have this done in a matter of months and not years. Vicky has a heart and soul that few people have, and I think she is one of the greatest, yet quietest, assets that this community has seen in recent years. We are humbled and grateful for her contribution and I hope this is a sign of amazing things to happen in 2019.”

The donation will be used to start with new electrical infrastructure inside the theater, and work toward making the facility temperature controlled in the months to come.

“I’m only one person, but I see the vision of what the Renaissance team is trying to accomplish. If everyone would see that, imagine where we could be,” Bridges said.

To give to the Renaissance Theater, tax deductible contributions can be sent to Community Connections, Inc.

Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com