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St. Paul's Bedlam Theater has serious money problems, launches fundraising campaign

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Bedlam Theater says it's in danger of closing up its performance space in downtown St. Paul if it doesn't come up with a sizable amount of cash by the end of the year.

The nonprofit theater company says it needs $400,000 by Dec. 31, and $75,000 of that must be raised by Sept. 15. It's launched an online Indiegogo fundraising campaign to raise some of the money, and has a series of other fundraising events planned over the next several weeks. As of Saturday evening, Bedlam had raised $8,834 of that goal.

Bedlam has been around since 1993, and opened its first venue in Minneapolis in 1996. Their West Bank space closed a few years ago, so Bedlam moved into the new Lowertown venue - which is across the street from the Union Depot - in May 2014.

But it's been an expensive proposition - more expensive than the theater operators had anticipated, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports.

Construction and remodeling costs for the Lowertown space were much higher than expected, and the building's heating and cooling systems needed to be replaced, too, the newspaper notes.

The theater was working on upgrading the venue for three years - spending money without having any revenue coming in.

Bedlam cofounder Maren Ward told MPR News she regrets signing an "as-is" lease on the space.

The city of St. Paul invested at least $340,000 in remodeling the venue as well, because it wanted to help develop more arts spaces downtown, the the Pioneer Press notes.

The current situation is so difficult that Bedlam management couldn't make payroll three times over the last several months, and some staff members have quit, according to the Pioneer Press.

So what will the money pay for?

Bedlam says the initial $75,000 will go toward the following:

  • Paying artists
  • Replacing a cooler in the kitchen
  • Helping to pay staff
  • Supplementing our rent and utilities payments
  • Relieving the pressure of upcoming sales tax
  • Helping to cover music licensing fees

There are signs that Bedlam could be successful in the long run. It's hosted more than 350 events since last year; doubled its monthly revenue in the past few months; and reduced its labor and other costs.

"We've hit our stride," says the theater, while it invites its fans to give money toward its fundraising campaign.

The theater's plan calls for raising $125,000 through a weekly Beers for Bedlam event on Tuesday nights, and another $200,000 through "major donors and new income initiatives." It also plans to host a town-hall style meeting soon to get other ideas from its supporters and answer questions.

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