Nearly $150,000 raised in effort to save steeple at church where R.E.M. played 1st show

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ATHENS, Georgia — A 60-day crowdfunding campaign for Nuci's Space, aimed both at restoring the "R.E.M. steeple" and helping the nonprofit group fund the health care assistance and other services it provides to local musicians, has fallen short of its $250,000 goal.

But it's far from a failed effort, says Executive Director Bob Sleppy.

According to the Indiegogo crowdfunding website, the "Reconstruction of the Steeple" campaign closed out its 60-day run earlier this month after raising $147,620.

"That's more money than we've ever raised," Sleppy said Wednesday.

And while the crowdfunding effort won't give Nuci's Space all of the money it would like to have to renovate the steeple, and won't provide as much in the way of reserve funds for its programs as the nonprofit would have liked, it has raised the profile of Nuci's Space.

And that, Sleppy said, could pay long-term dividends for the nonprofit, giving it a potential pool of new donors. That's important, he noted, because 70 percent of the Oconee Street facility's $400,000 annual budget is funded by individual donors, with donations ranging from $25 to thousands of dollars each year.

The online crowdfunding campaign — in particular, its goal of renovating the old St. Mary's Church steeple — put Nuci's Space in front of a lot of people who might not otherwise have ever heard of the organization, Sleppy said. The campaign also attracted some top-tier media attention, including mentions in Rolling Stone and Billboard magazines, thus boosting the nonprofit's profile.

The St. Mary's steeple — all that remains of the old St. Mary's Church on Oconee Street, just up the hill from Nuci's Space — occupies a special place in both local history and music history.

On April 5, 1980, Athens-based band R.E.M., a group which would establish the town's reputation as a music and cultural center, played its first show in the old St. Mary's Church.

In 2013, Nuci's Space acquired the then-ramshackle steeple as a gift from its previous owners, Steeplechase Condominiums.

The steeple has since been stabilized, and Nuci's Space has plans for further renovation, including the addition of a meditative garden on the site. Sleppy said Tuesday that the crowdfunding effort will give Nuci's Space sufficient funds to bring the steeple renovation significantly forward, though not yet to the full plan for the structure and its surroundings.

As stabilization efforts began at the steeple some time ago, bricks began falling from the top of it. The bricks couldn't be re-used, so, interestingly enough, they became part of the crowdfunding effort, with 2,000 bricks being offered as premiums for donors who contributed $100.

In addition to the money earmarked for the steeple renovation, the crowdfunding effort brought $70,000 to Nuci's Space to support its programs.

That money will go into a reserve fund, Sleppy said.

The reserve fund is needed, he explained, to cushion Nuci's Space against adverse economic circumstances such as the recent recession. In addition to affecting donations, the recession brought more local musicians needing services to Nuci's Space, he said.

"As an old Boy Scout, I like to be prepared," Sleppy said.


Information from: Athens Banner-Herald, http://www.onlineathens.com

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