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Ring the Bell and Rejoice!

The Belfry meets Kickstarter goal



The Belfry, the popular new music venue in Sisters, was in trouble.

With only seven days left in its Kickstarter campaign, the venue had raised less than 50 percent of its goal; $16,476 of the nearly $34,500 owner Angeline Rhett needed to upgrade the venue into a spot capable of hosting full-fledged shows in Sisters.

Time was running out.

For those not yet tapped by a friend or Facebook acquaintance running a Kickstarter campaign, the idea is to "crowd-source" revenue for a community project; mostly by asking for $10, $25 donations. It is the old pass-the-hat gone digital. One hitch, though: Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing proposition; if the Belfry didn't raise every penny of its goal, none of the money raised would go to the multifunction venue.

Over the past year, owner Angeline Rhett has repurposed the 100-year-old church into a cultural hub for concerts, fundraisers and other community events. But funding the project had become more significant when she learned what was needed to bring the building up to code.

Rhett was pursuing the Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to improve the lighting and sound equipment for the space, as well as for a sign out front.

Rhett also owns Angeline's Bakery, a gluten-free-friendly cafe in Sisters. She is frustrated because she says she was misled by building inspectors contracted by the city before her purchase of the building—they assured her many of the potential issues with the converted church were "grandfathered in."

Then, after running the venue for nearly six months, Rhett heard something different from Sisters city staff. Now she's scrambling to meet their demands.

Capacity is one of the most pressing problems. The building holds around 200 people, but if nothing is done to the building Rhett's capacity will be permanently set at 49. At last weekend's Pigs on the Wing concert (a Pink Floyd tribute band), Rhett explained, The Belfry had to turn patrons away. The venue is currently operating under a temporary use permit that allows for 149 occupants. If Rhett can't get The Belfry up to snuff, it will be forced back down to 49 occupancy when that permit expires on Sept. 7.

Among the things city building department officials told her she must do to be in compliance are installing a sprinkler system and two exit doors and other such last-minute additions. Rhett figured it would cost her $50,000 to meet the requirements.

"I've been in business a long time," Rhett assured. "I can get super-scrappy."

The Kickstarter campaign was part of that plan. And on Sunday, April 14, with just hours remaining on the Kickstarter deadline, the "Ring the Bell Campaign" broke the fundraising goal. A few major donations rolled in—some single pledges as high as $5,000—to bring the final tally $35,294 from 186 backers.

If there's any money left over after the renovations, Rhett hopes to convert a 2,000- square-foot building next door to the church into a youth hostel, which she says she will call The Belfry Bunkhouse.

"I think everyone got on board," said Rhett. "It's a combination of mostly community, and some of my family."

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