Generous Gift Secures Naming Rights For New Theater!

Generous gift secures naming rights for new theater

Sitting down to talk about the gift are, from left: Ben Ratkowski, Lakeshore Players Artistic Director; Kari Bullion, president of Children’s Performing Arts; Sharon Hanifl-Lee, CPA board member and foundation director; Rob Thomas, Lakeshore Players Managing Director.

Debra Neutkens | Press Publications

WHITE BEAR LAKE — Lakeshore Players Theatre will have a new moniker on its soon-to-be-constructed performing arts center.

A $2.75 million gift from a Chicago-based foundation has secured naming rights to the new theater planned for the city’s Arts District. The marquee will display the name “Hanifl Performing Arts Center” with “Home of Lakeshore Players Theatre and Children’s Performing Arts” in smaller letters underneath.

Paul Hanifl, a vice president of business development for a Chicago health care manufacturing company, and his wife, Suzanne Hanifl, started the foundation about 20 years ago. Their daughter, Sharon Hanifl-Lee, is a Hugo resident and board member of the Children’s Performing Arts Center (CPA), a nonprofit currently based in Forest Lake.

The name may ring a bell for area residents who have attended youth soccer and lacrosse games at Hanifl Fields in Hugo. The park was named for the family after the foundation awarded $500,000 to Hugo for a park shelter and athletic fields in 2010.

Hanifl-Lee said the foundation’s mission is to support communities through programs promoting environmental awareness, conservation, education, the arts and sciences, health and physical fitness.

“My parents have been blessed with success,” noted Hanifl-Lee, foundation vice president, “and we feel this success should be shared with the community.”

Her involvement with the CPA and seeing its impact on youth led to Hanifl-Lee’s endorsement of the foundation grant. Her children have all been involved in the Forest Lake performing arts center and the mother of three feels theater is a “life-changing, positive force in their lives.”

“Everything the foundation does is very personal,” she added. “It relates to us in some way.”

Her seventh-grade daughter Maddox, for example, dreams of being on Broadway. “She is a vivacious, outgoing person who loves being on stage,” said Hanifl-Lee. “I called around looking for a theater and someone from CPA called me back. They were doing ‘Jungle Book’ that year. We signed her up.”

That introduction eventually led to Hanifl-Lee joining the CPA board of directors and helping the program grow. Her children attend the Lakes International Language Academy in Forest Lake.

“The CPA is an incredible program to be part of,” she said. “It gives the kids so much confidence; they feel so good about themselves. I get goosebumps talking about it.”

A portion of the foundation’s grant, $1 million, has a matching component — “to re-energize the base,” noted Rob Thomas, Lakeshore Players’ managing director.

He recalled a recent conversation with a local banker who commented on how strange it is for a project this size to proceed with this type of funding. “It’s pretty much all private,” Thomas said. To date, Lakeshore has received about $8 million in cash and pledges.

That support made an impression on the Hanifl family. “We saw how Lakeshore Players impacts the community and how the community has embraced Lakeshore Players. People here really support the performing arts,” said Hanifl-Lee. “This is the kind of thing we want to help with, to get involved with, and we are super excited to do that.”

A final monetary goal is still being calculated as construction plans are finalized and bids come in. The original $6.2 million goal has grown now that the CPA is involved.

The building has expanded from 17,000 to 21,500 square feet, with the CPA occupying 4,100 square feet of that space for its programming.

A groundbreaking date has not been set, other than it will be sometime this summer. A Minneapolis contractor has been selected, Engelsma, and they have started working with the architects on development of the construction drawings.

Thomas said the missions of the two theaters are complementary and Lakeshore is “elated” over the partnership, an arrangement he called “serendipitous.”

“The performing arts center will be the premier destination for theater and performing arts education in the northeast metro region,” he added.

Ben Ratkowski, Lakeshore’s artistic director, pointed out: “We’ve been planning this building since 2013. We are very close to breaking ground and creating this great collaboration. It’s fabulous.”