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Gov. Dennis Daugaard meets with Jan and Ross Lamphere of Sturgis at a March fundraiser for the Black Hills Playhouse.

Gov. Dennis Daugaard and a crowd of local philanthropists brought the Black Hills Playhouse within $73,000 of starting construction that will enable the theater to reopen this summer.

At a fundraiser Friday at the Comfort Suites in Rapid City, about 120 donors gave more than $35,000 to the 66-year-old theater, which is under a deadline to make safety renovations in order to keep its lease in Custer State Park.

The playhouse also has a number of outstanding grant requests worth $75,000 that could put the theater over the top of its $450,000 fundraising goal.

With the money it has already raised, playhouse executive director Linda Anderson said construction should be able to start almost immediately.

"We're going to be in the park (this summer) for sure," she said. "This will get the theater work done."

Daugaard, the prime attraction at the fundraiser, said he wanted to help the playhouse to both preserve a cultural attraction he enjoys and keep a promise he made when running for governor.

"One of the concerns that was raised by potential donors is: ‘Can we count on the playhouse actually being in the park? Will the state support it?'" Daugaard said. "I knew it was important for me to be very clear that I will be supportive and am very supportive of the playhouse getting back to their original site."

The governor donated $5,000 from his campaign fund to help the playhouse meet its $450,000 goal. He also donated a night's stay in the governor's residence in Pierre as a prize for two random couples who donated more than $1,000 at Friday's fundraiser.

Several attendees said they were glad that Daugaard was so supportive of the playhouse after being upset at Gov. Mike Rounds' threats to end the playhouse's lease.

"I was greatly disgruntled when Gov. Rounds was not supportive, and I'm thrilled that Gov. Daugaard is totally supportive and part of the campaign," said Mary Claire May of Custer.

Daugaard downplayed Rounds' role in the playhouse's troubles, saying he doesn't blame his predecessor for "being insistent about the improvements that needed to be made."

He said the threat of the playhouse being kicked out of the park had a silver lining in that it galvanized supporters of the theater to open their checkbooks and help fund the upgrades.

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Lia Green, chairwoman of the Rapid City Area Chamber of Commerce, said Daugaard "totally rocks" for his support for the playhouse.

"What a way to get behind something that people in the Black Hills are passionate about -- and that's having the playhouse in the park," Green said.

Jason Reuter, who has acted at the playhouse, told the crowd that their money would preserve something special.

"It's a magical place. It's a wonderful experience to bring people out to South Dakota who've never even heard about South Dakota before," Reuter said. "You're giving so many other artists an opportunity to come back and ply their craft on the finest stage in the area."

Contact David Montgomery at 394-8329 or david.montgomery@rapidcityjournal.com

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