The Denis Theatre in Mt. Lebanon has moved one step closer to starting its first phase of renovations with a $100,000 anonymous gift to restore the 74-year-old cinema.
The same donor will contribute another $100,000 if the theater matches the initial sum by February, the Denis Theatre Foundation announced this week.
Mark Lynch of A.L. Brourman, the foundation's fundraising counsel, said the anonymous donor is not from the South Hills area.
"That speaks to the broad appeal" of the project, he said.
Through donations from organizations and individuals, the foundation has so far raised nearly $1.65 million toward the $2.5 million costs of Phase 1.
"By the end of meeting the challenge grant, we hope that we'll be very near $2 million," said Valerie Golik, executive director of the Denis Theatre Foundation.
Project costs for phases 1 and 2 will total $4.5 million.
Phase 1 construction was to start this summer, Ms. Golik said, but is delayed until the foundation receives enough funding so crews can work nonstop in the roughly eight months to a year it will take to renovate the 17,000-square-foot theater.
Renovations for that phase include an elevator and improvements to heating, cooling and plumbing systems.
Phase 2 will reopen a large screen on the main floor and a smaller, more intimate theater upstairs. Part of $2 million in the Phase 2 costs also will restore the old stage and create a multiuse room for cinema and performance and educational spaces that can host lectures.
The foundation will know next month if it will receive a grant through the state's Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program, which would cover some or all of the remaining project costs.
That program is competitive, Ms. Golik said, so the foundation stressed the theater's would-be benefits beyond Mt. Lebanon.
"We know that reopening this vacant space would make a big impact not just in the Mt. Lebanon community but in the entire South Hills," she said.
Foundation leaders are encouraging people to contribute on Pittsburgh Gives "Day of Giving" Tuesday, when individual donations will be matched by the Pittsburgh Foundation and go toward meeting the Denis' challenge grant.
Opened in 1938, the theater at that time offered one giant screen and could hold more than 1,200 people.
In 2004, the theater closed; Mt. Lebanon businessman and former commission member D. Raja purchased it three years later. The foundation formed that year.
The cinema, which plans to show digital independent and foreign films and documentaries, succeeded with its first challenge grant of $155,000 in 2010.
Molly Born: email@example.com or 412-263-1944.