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Community Steps Up Support For Gulfshore Playhouse, Meeting Baker $10 Million Challenge In 42 Days

Sandi and Tom Moran pledge $5 million for naming of mainstage.

Community Steps Up Support For Gulfshore Playhouse, Meeting Baker $10 Million Challenge In 42 Days

Trailblazing a historical path for the new Gulfshore Playhouse at the Baker Theatre and Education Center, numerous philanthropic, business and community leaders stepped up support for the professional theatre, not just meeting the Patty and Jay Baker $10 million match challenge, but exceeding it by over $400,000. Gulfshore Playhouse has now raised $54.3 million for its new cultural campus.

The fundraising frenzy followed a surprise announcement on April 21 by Patty and Jay Baker, Naples' leading arts and culture philanthropists and Broadway producers. Patty Baker, a Gulfshore Playhouse board member and Tony-award winning producer, and Jay Baker, co-founder of Kohls, pledged to match all gifts made to the Next Stage Capital Campaign up to $10 million and set an aggressive deadline of July 4 to make the match. Gulfshore Playhouse met that challenge in just over a month. To date, the Bakers have contributed $20 million to the Next Stage Capital Campaign via two separate and highly successful challenges at both the start and end of the campaign. Their $20 million commitment ties the second highest philanthropic gift the Bakers have made to a single nonprofit over the course of their lives.

The professional theatre has raised more than $34 million in the last five months during the pandemic, and is closing in on the final stretch, with just $5.6 million needed to fully fund the new architectural gem in downtown Naples.

Responding to the Bakers' call, Naples residents Sandi and Tom Moran reaffirmed their commitment to the transformational downtown project by increasing their already pledged seven-figure commitment to $5 million, naming the mainstage and solidifying their largest personal gift ever. Gulfshore Playhouse board member Sandi Moran is also a producer for such Broadway musicals as "Hadestown," the 2019 Tony Award-winner for Best Musical, and "Once on This Island," winner of the 2018 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, as well as the hits "Anastasia" and "Moulin Rouge." Tom Moran, Founder and CEO of Moran Wealth Management, has been ranked by Barron's as the No. 1 Financial Advisor in Florida for over ten years, as well as Forbes' 2021 Best-In-State listing for South Florida. Together, the couple has supported numerous charitable and arts-oriented organizations.

"Theatre enriches every life it touches. At Gulfshore Playhouse, the staging, directing and world-class performances are inspiring, uplifting and wonderfully entertaining," said Sandi Moran. "It provides the best professional theater experience in Southwest Florida, and the new Gulfshore Playhouse at the Baker Theatre and Education Center will elevate this offering even more. This new cultural center is the most exciting thing to happen in Naples in many years, and we are honored to be a part of it."

At the new 350-seat Moran Mainstage, audiences will experience comfortable seating with excellent sightlines and acoustics while captivated by the energy and talent of professional artists. Stunning large-cast musicals and comedies, treasured classics and daring new works that inspire personal transformation will be presented on an architecturally superb stage rivaling anything on Broadway.

In addition to the Morans' gift, several other Naples couples have recently made lead gifts for the new theatre and education center.

Karl and Joanne Wyss have pledged $1.5 million, naming the Wyss Lobby Bar. Karl's career spans consulting, industry, and Wall Street with leading firms including McKinsey and Company, ADP, and Forstmann Little, where he served as Chairman and CEO of the Lear Siegler Companies. As Chief Operating Partner of Merchant Banking at DLJ-Credit Suisse First Boston, Karl oversaw the performance of a portfolio of some 40 companies. Joanne enjoyed a 25-year career as Director of Communications for McKinsey and Company before launching a strategic communications consulting firm. She has been honored as a Woman of Achievement by the Community Foundation of Collier County and received the Distinguished Leadership Award from Greater Naples Leadership. The Wysses have turned their passions for the arts, education and healthcare into transformative philanthropic giving that has created lasting impact for Naples.

Leo and Jean Hertzog have pledged $750,000 for the naming of Hertzog Hall. Founder of Communication Concepts Group, multiple companies ranging from direct-mail, printing, marketing, computer technology, and information disaster recovery, Leo Hertzog along with Jean, a competitive ballroom dancer, have been longtime patrons and supporters of the arts. They have chaired numerous events and have provided philanthropic support for many children's causes, education and healthcare charities.

Gulfshore Playhouse board member Nizar Ghoussaini, and his wife Valerie Ghoussaini, a member of the Next Stage Capital Campaign committee, have pledged $500,000 to name the outdoor bar in the Wilson Gardens at the new theatre and education center. Nizar, a senior operating partner at the European private equity firm Triton since 2008, along with Valerie, an accomplished artist, have remained active with charitable organizations in the US and abroad that focus on education and health, especially in the Palestinian Territories.

Don and Carolyn McCulloch have pledged $500,000 toward the naming of the Founder's Lounge Balcony. A Gulfshore Playhouse board member and Founder and Chairman of MPS Capital, Don along with his wife, Carolyn, have been active in various arts and humanities nonprofits throughout the country.

An anonymous donor has also pledged $1 million.

Reinhold and Erika Schmieding have made a commitment to support the future health and safety of staff and patrons at Gulfshore Playhouse at the Baker Theatre and Education Center with a donation of Synexis systems valued at $250,000. This innovative technology - proven to kill airborne and surface bacteria and viruses using a low level of dry hydrogen peroxide - has been used in the Naples Landmark hospital and all Arthrex facilities to successfully protect employees and visitors throughout the pandemic. Mobile Synexis units will be positioned strategically throughout the new theatr. For more information on Synexis:

In all, 52 new or increased gifts were pledged to meet the Baker $10 Million Match Challenge.

"It hardly bears repeating how difficult the past 14 months have been for our industry, and how long it will be until we recover fully, but one of the unexpected benefits of having to redirect our efforts during the early months of the pandemic was that we were able to squarely focus on our new building," said Kristen Coury, CEO and Producing Artistic Director for Gulfshore Playhouse. "What would have entailed in-person meetings in New York turned into three, three-hour virtual meetings each week where we dug thoroughly into every detail of the building. The result is an even more architecturally superior theatre and education center. From rip-roaring laughter to difficult subjects delivered with grace, the new theatre and education center will be a place where theater lovers share exceptional experiences. This is a gift for Naples and beyond. We're thrilled to welcome all to be a part of creating a lasting legacy."

Furthering the professional theatre's mission of strengthening the cultural wealth of the region, the Baker Theatre and Education Center will be home to world-class productions that have the power to foster connections, catalyze conversations and bridge cultural differences. Accessible theatre education programming and stunning cultural engagement spaces will be open to the public and serve the entire region.

"While national reports and media outlets have confirmed the arts and cultural industries remain among the hardest hit by the economic crises inflicted by COVID-19, Gulfshore Playhouse has harnessed the challenges faced to revolutionize its fundraising efforts on both the Capital Campaign and annual giving side of operations," said Chief Advancement Officer Kimberly Dye. "Rather than stepping back and waiting for things to subside, we took an active approach in shoring up any financial shortfalls and created a new annual fundraising model that focused on turning our ticket sales into donations. The development team immediately went to work via Zoom, phone and email, contacting patrons to keep them informed of our progress and plans, and we experienced tremendous support as a result. Nearly 60% of patrons contributed their tickets back, an outcome I attribute to the fact we are and always have been focused on the patron experience."

The relationships fostered over the years set the stage during the pandemic for the Gulfshore Playhouse team to engage in honest conversations with patrons about the current challenges, to ask donors to give above and beyond, and to ask patrons to consider coming back to the theatre.

Gulfshore Playhouse was the only Equity-approved theatre in the United States to receive permission to perform indoors during the pandemic. Allowing business to operate as best as it could during a global crisis allowed Gulfshore Playhouse a very special opportunity to continue to engage with the community - safely and securely. As a result, patron support through annual giving efforts also led the way for expanded philanthropic giving for the Next Stage Capital Campaign.

"The realities of a pandemic where interactions were limited, spotlighted the importance of human connection," added Dye. "This allowed us to have meaningful conversations with donors about the new theatre and education center as an important cultural center where people can engage, meet with friends, and discuss current events. This gave people something to look forward to and motivated philanthropic support far beyond our expectations for the new Gulfshore Playhouse cultural campus."

As a result of this season's operational and fundraising successes, the new Gulfshore Playhouse at the Baker Theatre and Education Center is slated to break ground this fall, with an anticipated opening of late 2023.

"As a regional professional theatre, we are committed to keeping theatre alive across the country - and with the community's help, we're putting Naples on the map for professional theatre," added Coury. "From fostering new works to providing Broadway-bound venues for out-of-town tryouts and creating a local hub for culture and business, the theatre and education center will serve as an iconic visual and cultural center located at the gateway to downtown Naples."

The new campus - one of the first in the nation to be formally named a "Theatre and Education Center"- will spur more than $20 million annually in economic activity in Southwest Florida. The new campus will expand the creative job sector, employing nearly 60 full time employees, 10 interns/apprentices, and more than 400 visiting artists who will also invest in Naples' economy during their stay. Professional theatre education internships and training programs offered by Gulfshore Playhouse will provide pathways for artistic careers, further boosting the creative economy.

"This project will create transformational change for our region and solidifies the arts still matter," said Steve Akin, Gulfshore Playhouse board chairman and co-chair of the Next Stage Capital Campaign. "Prior to the pandemic, the arts and culture industry contributed nearly a trillion dollars to the GDP - greater than the value added by such industries as construction, transportation and warehousing, mining, and agriculture. With vaccinations now readily available, CDC mandates broadening and Broadway reopening, the theatre industry is destined to rebound. The road to recovery for this industry is already underway, and Gulfshore Playhouse is helping lead the charge. There is no other regional theatre expanding at this rate financially, structurally or operationally. The success Gulfshore Playhouse has achieved is not only because of a philanthropic community that values the arts, but a visionary stewardship by its CEO, Kristen Coury."

Situated within the Design District on the corner of 1st Avenue South and Goodlette-Frank Road, the Cultural Campus also supports the City of Naples' redevelopment plans for the East of 41 downtown area. The new Cultural Campus will help establish a vibrant destination district that will benefit existing and future businesses.

Gulfshore Playhouse now invites the public to be a part of making history by making a gift in any amount to support the next generation of theatre-lovers and expanding access to exceptional professional theater and education experiences for generations to come. Several prominent naming opportunities still remain for those wishing to join the Campaign at the leadership level. To give a gift today, visit

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