Paradise Center for the Arts

The Paradise Center for the Arts in downtown Faribault is now debt-free after it raised $230,500 to go with $250,000 from the city. (File photo/

Get out your lighter, Heidi Nelson’s ready to burn the mortgage.

More than two months ahead of a Dec. 31 deadline and despite a worldwide pandemic, the Paradise Center for the Arts has gone from nearly $500,000 in debt to being debt free.

On Tuesday, the Faribault City Council approved a $250,000 payment to the Paradise to go with $230,500 raised by the center and its Board of Directors, making good on the council’s agreement to help eliminate the center’s debt.

The agreement, approved by the council in January, came following a request late last year by Nelson, the PCA’s executive director, and former board chair Nort Johnson. Even before COVID-19, they told the council, monthly debt payments of more $5,500 were hampering the center’s ability to offer a variety of programming at an affordable price. But once the pandemic ended all performances and shows, making the payments and covering other expenses became even more of a challenge.

“COVID has allowed us to rethink our model, tighten our belts and figure out how we’re going to go forward,” Nelson told the council last December. “For that, having no credit is paramount.”

By the time Nelson and Johnson approached the council, they already had about $55,000 set aside.

Funding came from its 100 Club, donors who contribute $2,500 and become lifetime PCA members. To date, the club has 87 members.

In exchange for the $250,000, the Paradise promised not to request city funding until at least 2031. The Paradise, which previously operated as the Faribault Arts Center — along with several other area nonprofits — has requested city funds since 1999. In 2019, the Paradise was awarded $13,000. It also agreed to remain debt-free for at least a decade.

“It has been heartwarming to see the support offered by our community especially during this time of COVID instability,” Nelson told the council Tuesday.

100 Club members will be recognized in a new piece of artwork to be displayed in the lobby honoring their contributions, according to a news release. They also will be invited to a yearly event that will showcase future programming at the theater and focus on the use of saved funds by eliminating the mortgage debt. The first of these events will be an exclusive Burn the Mortgage party where three of the center’s past executive directors and Nelson will each hold a corner of the mortgage as it is dramatically tossed into a fire.

“At the Paradise Center for the Arts we understand that to whom much is given, much is required and we will always honor that responsibility,” Nelson said. “Eliminating the mortgage and line of credit debt will allow us to continue to provide all people with the transformative power of the arts.”

Reach Regional Managing Editor Suzanne Rook at 507-333-3134. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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