Anonymous donation makes Swift Creek Mill Theatre debt-free after facing pandemic, flooding

Chesterfield County
Flooding over the weekend

Elevated water levels in the Swift Creek (Photo: Alex Thorson)

SOUTH CHESTERFIELD, VA. (WRIC)— Almost one year after the pandemic closed its doors and almost six months after a damaging flood, the Swift Creek Mill Theatre is now debt-free thanks to an anonymous donation.

Managing Director of the Swift Creek Mill Theatre, Steven Koehler, said the historic building is a not-for-profit business. The Chesterfield County non-profit operates as a performing arts theater with a dining hall attached.

Koehler said the pandemic forced its doors to close in early March. In August, heavy rains caused the Swift Creek to rise and flood the theatre with about 15 feet of water.

Repairs to the damage done by flood water in basement are still ongoing months later.

“What else? You know, what else can hit us?” said Koehler.

The theatre received little to no revenue and relied solely on donations to stay in business in 2020.
An anonymous donor gave $600,000 to the theatre which helped make it debt-free for the first time in its 20-year history as a non-profit, said Koehler.

“We just had a huge response that, yes we’ve been dealing with a lot, but it inspired us to keep going and kind of gave us hope,” he said. “The light at the end of the tunnel was brighter than what we had hoped for.”

They started receiving donations from many different community members and arts patrons.

“One of the lead performers from the show in 1965 sent in a donation. My high school drama teacher sent in donations. We just had a huge response,” Koehler said.

In a normal year, more than 30,000 people would come through the theatre, said Koehler. Of that number are 17,000 youth from surrounding schools to come see professionally produced theatre performances. He said the theatre has had an impact on the youth for over 25 years.

“The arts are such a vital part of everything we do and having that absence for the past year hurt,” he said. “That impact has been felt the lack of and people are so anxious for us to get back and start doing shows again.”

Koehler said they’re working on a schedule for the theatre to reopen soon.

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