The Inside Scoop on the Foundation for the Carolinas's Bold Plan to Renovate the Carolina Theatre

We frequently come across projects that seek to create an "anchor institution" in the middle of a mid-sized American city. Recent news out of Charlotte takes this idea to a far more ambitious level.

The Foundation for the Carolinas, a Charlotte-based community foundation with over $1.4 billion in assets, is thinking big. Their goal? To renovate the historic Carolina Theatre, which has been sitting dormant for 36 years, and transform it into what we can only call a "organizational hub" that will not only bring business to the neighborhood, but also serve as a convening space for symposia, major speakers, panel discussions, and documentary films.

Oh, and the theatre will also double as the headquarters for not only the Foundation for the Carolinas, but other local groups including the Luski-Gorelick Center for Philanthropy, the Sonia and Isaac Luski Gallery, the Levine Conference center, and more. Phew.

The foundation got a huge lift when the families of Claudia Belk and the late John M. Belk, plus Katherine Belk and the late Thomas M. Belk, donated $8 million to the restoration effort. The family traces its wealth back to the Reconstruction South when John Belk opened a general store in Monroe, North Carolina. As Forbes notes, the family, which is worth $1.4 billion as of July 2014, remains a fixtures in Charlotte, where they run their $4 billion department store chain.

As noted, the theater has been gathering cobwebs since the Ford administration. We're talking 36,000 square feet of incredible architecture and unused space. Finally, in 2012, civic leaders stepped in when the Charlotte City Council entrusted the foundation with the theater's restoration. "Take it and run with it," they said.

While some theaters could ask for funds noting that their respective theaters were, quite literally, crumbling from within, the foundation lacked that luxury, simply because the Carolina Theater was in such a primitive state, it couldn't even host even small public events. They were starting from square one.

The foundation's fundraising goal? A cool $35 million. Amazingly, two years on, they're more than halfway there. Thanks to the gift from the Belk families, the foundation has raised $20.7 million.