CEDAR CITY — Utah Shakespearean Festival founder Fred C. Adams said he's always hoped to see it in his lifetime, and a $3 million donation might build a much-needed theater sooner rather than later.

The gift from the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation was announced Thursday during an event honoring former Mayor Gerald R. Sherratt at Southern Utah University. The foundation already pledged $1 million and is now adding another $2 million "last-dollar challenge." It's the largest single gift the festival has received and was announced to jump-start fundraising again for the new theater.

With less than $5 million left to go for the $33.7 million building, the 79-year-old Adams is getting antsy to put a shovel in the ground, but in this economic climate, he won't do it until all the funding is secured. The already 15-year-old project, which is intended to replace the more than 30-year-old Adams Theatre in the center of the SUU campus, is constantly on his mind.

"There is a huge demand for it," he said. With a new theater with a retractable roof, the world-famous festival could run a longer season, hopefully from April through January, he said. Currently, shows go from the end of June through August, and patrons and tourists spend up to $30 million in the area during that time. Adams said the tourist impact could double with the extended season.

In addition to being a "landmark for theaters in the entire country," Adams said the new building will allow for longer, more attractive contracts for actors and technical and artistic staff, perhaps providing incentive to relocate to the area. "There's nothing like this anywhere."

SUU President Michael T. Benson said the $3 million will hopefully spur other donations for the project. As "one of Utah's great success stories," he said it would be great to begin construction near the festival's upcoming 50th anniversary.

The new theater would sit on the corner of 300 West and University Boulevard, across from the new Southern Utah Museum of Art, making for an artful corner, Benson said.

"The two facilities will complement each other well," he said.

Adams said the Eccles Foundation gift is wonderful and doesn't come as a surprise because the family has "had overwhelming faith in the festival" and in other cultural endeavors statewide for so many years.

In addition to a retractable roof, the new state-of-the-art theater would boast a glass-enclosed foyer, larger seating capacity, dressing and rehearsal rooms and community workshop classrooms. The new building would anchor the Utah Shakespearean Festival Centre for the Performing Arts, along with the existing Randall L. Jones Theatre.

"We are so pleased to join with others who are generously supporting the creation of this new theater," said Eccles Foundation President Lisa Eccles. "Together, as part of our statewide mission, we hope our support will further strengthen the arts community of Cedar City and generate long-term benefits for area citizens and visitors alike."