WESTERLY — The movie theater where many memories were made has taken another step closer to its comeback.
The United Theatre, the iconic Canal Street movie house where scores of local filmgoers watched their first horror movie, or saw “Star Wars,” or “Jaws” for the first time, or held the hand of their honey in the upstairs balcony, has announced a $7 million dollar capital campaign to complete the renovations.
Philanthropist Charles “Chuck” Royce and state Sen. Dennis L. Algiere, R-Westerly, will serve as co-chairs of the campaign, said Maureen Fitzgerald, the chair of the United’s board of directors.
“We have secured pledges from board members and two six-figure gifts,” she said, “which puts is in a good position.”
A number of local businesses are also behind the project, said Fitzgerald, who was waiting to make the final arrangements before announcing the names of the donors.
“We are moving ahead,” Fitzgerald said, comparing the project, once it is completed, to a “mini Lincoln Center.”
Plans call for the United to house two movie theaters, a large performing arts center, space for a music school and another venue for artists and authors. The Rhode Island Philharmonic will also have a presence, she said.
“And the Artists Cooperative Gallery will come back,” she added.
Earlier this month, it was announced that the gallery would move temporarily to the Westerly train station — pending approval from the state Properties Committee — during the renovations.
Fitzgerald noted that the theater has just launched a new website, unveiled a new logo, and announced a new calendar of events.
“We are rebranding,” she said. “And we also have a mew mission statement.”
The mission, she said, “is to unite the community through the arts.”
“We plan to have a number of mini-projects,” she said, “and air conditioning for the summer.” A new heating and ventilation system is being installed.
On July 20, the theater will screen “The Shape of Water,” which will include a question and answer session with Rhode Island actor Richard Jenkins, who was nominated for an Academy Award in the movie for his role as Giles.
On Aug. 18, the Bruce Harris Quintet will return with “Jazz Night at the United.” The theater has also scheduled a number of “Movies in the Park” events in conjunction with the Westerly Library, beginning Thursday with “The Greatest Showman.”
“We’ve also expanded our board,” said Fitzgerald, “and created a finance committee and fundraising committee.”
“It’s all very exciting,” she said, stressing the importance of community involvement in the project.
“We’re hoping for a positive community response from both states,” she said. “Every donation matters, no matter the size.”
Residents interested in becoming involved can contact a board member, she added. Volunteers are needed, and welcome, she said.
Algiere, who has helped raise significant funds for such organizations as the Westerly Public Library and the Wilcox Park’s capital campaign, and who was a member of President George W. Bush’s Advisory Committee on the Arts at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, said he was “honored and pleased” to be helping raise funds for such an important cultural project alongside Royce.
“The United will be a premier regional arts center,” predicted Algiere. “It’ll be great … just great … and important not just for us here in Westerly, but for the whole region.”
“I’ve had such positive reactions from people,” he added. “I am sure they’ll support the project.”
Visit unitedtheatre.org to vew the new website.