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The Lompoc Theatre Project took a giant leap toward its goal of reviving the rundown theater building with the City Council’s approval Tuesday of an agreement to transfer ownership to the grassroots group.

The City Council and Lompoc Theatre Project signed a memorandum of understanding that begins the process of transferring ownership to the nonprofit organization.

Speaking in front of an audience filled with about 50 supporters, Lompoc Theatre Project representatives presented a capital construction campaign and a fundraising plan, announcing that the renovation project’s cost will be $5 million.

The proposed operational budget for the first year of the theater’s reopening will be about $900,000, said Mark Herrier, a member of the group’s board of directors. Herrier is an actor and director, who appeared in the “Porky’s” movies in the 1980s.

“We have the best people we can have,” Herrier said. “Five million — what does that buy you? An amazing venue, and I dare say the Central Coast will have never seen anything like it.”

Herrier said renovating the Lompoc Theatre will bring tourists to town, in addition to encouraging them to stay in local hotels and dine in local restaurants.

“Towns all over country are renovating their theaters, seeing their property values rise, (seeing) employment rise and an elevation in spirit of the community,” he said. “(You can’t) measure that with statistics. There is no reason we shouldn’t have this theater.”

Arts groups have struggled in Lompoc, Herrier said, and the availability of a venue like the theater — which will be free for local arts performances — is something artists in Lompoc sorely need.

“We just need one (theater),” he said. “That’s our theater. Our economy needs it, our arts groups need it and our youth hunger for it. We citizens deserve it.”

Fundraising Chair Katie Baillargeon presented a fundraising capital campaign to the council and emphasized the importance of beginning the campaign as soon as possible, even before construction and renovation begins on the theater. The Lompoc Theatre Project held its first fundraiser April 26 and reportedly raised several thousand dollars.

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“Most capital campaigns wait until they raise all their funds to begin construction,” Baillargeon said. “Our idea is that it’s important for the public, and frankly for us too, to begin work as soon as we can.”

After the presentation and public comment, the City Council voted 4-0-1 to approve the agreement with the group. Councilman Dirk Starbuck recused himself from the discussion, saying he owned property in the area that could cause a conflict of interest.

The project has some hurdle ahead — the approval of the Successor Agency Oversight Board and the state’s Department of Finance. Both have to approve the property transfer before the existing $700,000 lien can be removed from the defunct Lompoc Housing and Community Development Corporation (LHCDC).

“You have the enthusiasm, and that’s what really counts to me,” said Councilman Bob Lingl. “I do think this is our last chance … if we approve this, there’s no guarantee.”

Lompoc Theatre Project President Cecilia Martner said other nonprofits have tried to revive the theater before with no success. But this time can be different, she said.

“We are asking, ‘let’s make it happen,’” Martner said. “I don’t think we have a choice. I don’t feel this community has a choice to continue to ignore what the Lompoc Theatre is. This is really the first step … there is a tremendous challenge ahead.”

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