Secretary of Commerce Juanita Kreps yesterday announced that a matching grant of $2.14 million will be made to the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem for the renovation of a now-vacant downtown theater.

The theater -- to be named the Roger L. Stevens Center for the Performing Arts, in honor of the Kennedy Center's board chairman, a former board member of the school -- is the focus of an effort to revitalize the downtown area.

"This grant demonstrates that arts are a vital and lively aspect of local economics," said Kreps at a press conference in the Dirksen Senate office building. The Economic Development Administration, part of Commerce, has awarded some $25 million to $30 million in funds for culturally related projects over the last three years, according to Louise Wiener, a special assistant to Kreps.

"If you've been in as many cities as I have where you can take a machine gun and fire [through] the center of town after 6 p.m. and not hit a soul, you know how important this grant is for economic development," said Stevens at the press conference yesterday.

Also at the press conference were the mayor of Winston Salem, Wayne Corpening, and a variety of businessmen from the area who helped raise and donate the matching $2 million for the grant.