LACONIA — The Colonial Theatre redevelopment project is moving along in high gear, Mayor Ed Engler told the city council Monday night.
“The committee in charge of the project is hard at work. We’re meeting on an almost daily basis and there have been no setbacks,” said Engler.
The committee is working with a consultant to raise $2 million in private funds for the $15 million project, but will wait until it is “well into a success mode before a general announcement will be made” about the fund drive, Engler said.
The project drew more than 20 proposals from architectural, construction and engineering firms which wanted to be involved with renovating the historic theater.
“There’s tremendous regional interest in this project,” the mayor told the council.
All the firms chosen to work on the project were local: Misiaszek & Turpin PLLC of Laconia will provide achitectural services; Bonnette, Page & Stone of Laconia will be construction manager and Rist-Frost-Shumway Engineering of Laconia will provide engineering services.
Engler observed that the architects, better known locally as “Sonya and Rob,” have a view from their office at the Busiel Mill of the back side of the Colonial complex and are very excited about the opportunity they have to work on the project.
The three-building property is now owned by 609 Main Street LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Belknap Economic Development Council, and was purchased for $1.4 million from Patricia Baldi, whose late husband Lawrence acquired it in 1967. The City of Laconia loaned the Belknap Economic Development Council the purchase price for a term of up to 18 months, with interim payments of interest only.
The economic development council has contracted with Bayside Rentals and Management of Meredith to manage the property.
During the next 18 months the economic development council will put together a $15 million package to fund the renovations. When the financing is arranged, the economic development council will repay its $1.4 million loan from the city, which in turn will lend economic development council $2 million to $3 million, with payments of interest only for a term of seven years to complete the renovation and restoration.
Once the theater is restored, the city will lease the property as the sole tenant for seven years, operating it as a civic auditorium. After seven years the city will have the option to acquire the auditorium, but not the residential and commercial units on the property, by forgiving its outstanding loan to the economic development council.
The entire property is 38,642 square feet, with the theater representing approximately 20,000 square feet. The half-acre parcel has 91 feet of frontage on Main Street and 209 feet on Canal Street. In addition to the theater, the property includes four storefront units on Main Street, each about 1,150 square feet, five retail units on Canal Street, between 250 and 1,500 square feet, and 18 apartments on the second and third floors of the Main Street building.
Built by Benjamin Piscopo in 1913, the theater opened on April 13, 1914, as one of the grandest vaudeville and movie houses in New England. As motion pictures overtook live performances in the years after the First World War, the theater became a cinema, hosting the world premiere of “Peyton Place,” the saga of small town scandal written by Grace Metalious of Gilmanton. In the 1980s, the ornate auditorium fashioned by Italian artisans was divided into a multiplex cinema with five screens. In 2001 the Colonial went dark after 87 years.
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