Giving the green

Don and Karen Christopher stand in the vacant lot on Eigleberry

Gilroy
– Local ranch owners Don and Karen Christopher have made their
second significant community donation in just two years, pledging
$1.25 million to support an endowment for the future Gilroy Center
for the Arts.
Gilroy – Local ranch owners Don and Karen Christopher have made their second significant community donation in just two years, pledging $1.25 million to support an endowment for the future Gilroy Center for the Arts.

The money will support a $3-million fund that will enable the facility, scheduled to open at Seventh and Monterey streets by 2008, to meet operating expenses while offering nonprofit groups and local students discounted rates to use the facility.

The Christophers live in Gilroy and operate the family’s burgeoning agricultural business that features fresh garlic products just south of the city, off Highway 25.

Christopher said he decided to help with the arts project more than a year ago when he first heard about the plans, but did not disclose his intentions to fundraisers until several months back.

“It’s been in Don’s heart and my heart for quite some time,” Karen Christopher said.

The couple explained they have been long-time supporters of the Gilroy school system and its arts programs. All five of Don Christopher’s grandchildren – now in college – passed through local schools, and four of Karen Christopher’s grandchildren still attend elementary school in Gilroy.

On Wednesday, the couple mailed out the first of five installments on their pledge – $250,000 in stock holdings in Pacific Capital Bank.

“What a gesture he has made,” said Donna Pray, executive director of the Gilroy Foundation and a fundraising volunteer for the arts center. “Hopefully other people will follow his lead.”

The Christophers are developing a reputation for big gifts for local causes. Last year, they donated land worth $6 million to the Gilroy Unified School District to build a new elementary school. In exchange, the city plans to name a future high school after the Christophers. The family name also adorns a grammar school in San Jose, where Don Christopher’s father and grandfather served for years as school board trustees.

The family’s latest gift means their name will appear above the art center’s main theater hall. The gift also carries with it a lifetime membership to the Friends of Gilroy Arts Center and access to a patron’s lounge. Aside from the main hall, naming rights range from $5,000 for the costume area to $250,000 for the black box theater and $500,000 for the lobby.

The endowment will offset a projected $132,000 shortfall in the center’s projected annual operating budget of $503,000, according to a business plan for the project. The plan predicts the endowment would cover the difference by earning five percent interest on the $3 million, or $150,000, each year.

The remainder of the annual operating costs will come from rental fees for special events, concession sales, advertising, and user fees. The largest portion – about $117,500 – will come from rentals of space to private and nonprofit groups.

The announcement of the Christopher gift comes just two days after fundraisers disclosed a $250,000 pledge by the Garlic Festival Association, which allows it to lay claim to naming rights for the outdoor courtyard on the north side of the arts center.

“We are in the process of completing discussions on contributions that will bring us beyond the halfway mark,” Pray said.

She will reveal another six to eight donors next week, when City Council is expected to sign off on naming rights for various other parts of the facility.

Fundraisers expected the endowment campaign to last for up to two years, but Christopher is far more optimistic.

“I think there are more people in line,” he said, referring to potential donors. “I believe they’ll have absolutely no trouble raising the $3 million in six months.”

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