Imperial Theatre's $3-million fundraising campaign to renovate and upgrade the historic building kicked off in Saint John on Tuesday with a gift of more than $1 million from the federal government.

Saint John-Rothesay MP Wayne Long announced the Department of Canadian Heritage will provide $850,000 to the "community jewel" under the Canada Cultural Spaces Fund, while the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) will contribute $200,000 under its Innovative Communities Fund.

The theatre's foundation has also made a contribution toward the campaign dubbed We Are *IT, with the *IT for Imperial Theatre.

"This is more than a fundraising effort. It's really about celebrating the role of Imperial Theatre in our community," Wayne Chamberlain, co-chair of the campaign said in a statement.

Imperial Theatre

A safety net was set up at the top of the Imperial Theatre last year to protect passersby from bits of deteriorating brick and terra cotta. (Brian Chisholm/CBC)

"We need to recognize this institution and what it means ot us all — from local singers, dancers and musicians to the international performers who come here because they know Imperial Theatre is someplace special," he said.

Lee Bolton, the theatre's executive director, is hoping the community will now "pitch in" with the rest of the money needed to restore the brick and terra cotta facade and to deal with some "structural issues," including steel beams and lintels that need to be reinforced.

"We're more than halfway there," she said.

The facade work, which is scheduled to begin in late April or May, involves completely removing and replacing brick from the top level, replacing some sections of brick and terra cotta at lower levels, repairing and repainting some brick, and other structural repairs.

It will be conducted in accordance with National Historic Site standards and is expected to take about a year to complete, said Bolton.

Some of the federal funding will also be used to upgrade the theatre's lighting system with energy efficient technology.