GARDINER — As part of a plan to raise funds to pay for the renovation of Johnson Hall’s large theater, members of its board have asked Gardiner city officials to make a leadership gift to support the project.

The request for $150,000 is intended to be a challenge gift that will draw other donations to support the $4.5 million project that supporters say will give Gardiner an economic and cultural boost.

While a number of city residents and business owners support the project and the request for city funds, several spoke out against the move at a public hearing during last Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

Andrew MacLean, a former Gardiner mayor and president of the Johnson Hall board of directors, said the renovation of the historic opera house will be an economic development game-changer for the city. He was joined by Logan Johnston, co-chairman of the theater’s capital campaign committee, and Carolyn Kimberlin, vice president of the Johnson Hall board.

During the last 20 years, Johnson Hall has invested nearly $460,000 into the building, MacLean said, including renovating the ground floor and building the 117-seat Studio Theater, maintaining the building and preparing for the renovation.

The theater has dramatically increased its programming, including the number of shows it puts on in the Studio Theater, the Johnson and Riverfront parks, in the Gardiner schools and five weeks of summer camp, he said.

To date, the capital campaign that now is in its quiet phase has tallied cash, pledges and a commitment to buy historic tax credits that total more than $2 million from companies, board members, individuals and families.

“The renovation of the upper floors of Johnson Hall represents a quantum leap for Johnson Hall and what it offers to the city,” he said. Currently it draws 3,000 people every year. When the upper theater is completed, MacLean said, Johnson Hall is expected to draw 15,000 people annually.

“That quantum leap will absolutely be a game-changer for the city’s economic development,” he said. “It’s for these reasons we respectfully ask the City Council to designate $150,000 of current fund balance as an investment in the $4.49 million historic renovation of the opera house theater as a leadership gift to be paid upon signing the construction agreement.”

Maureen Blanchard, who questioned and objected to city contributions to non-profits including Johnson Hall when she was a city councilor, argued against the gift.

“What we have now is a non-profit that has requested $150,000 in addition to the $25,000 a year the city pays it annually to stay afloat, and we cannot lower taxes,” Blanchard said.

Matthew Marshall expressed his reservations on the request. “I support the arts, and I hope in my heart of hearts that (Johnson Hall) is very successful, but I don’t think taxpayers should be on the hook for $150,000,” he said. If the property tax the theater would generate while it’s owned by a for-profit entity would repay the amount of the gift, he would support the move.

The second read on the request will take place Wednesday, when the City Council next meets. The meeting will be at 6 p.m. in City Council Chambers at 6 Church St.