Big crowds for start of Bike Week

LACONIA — The opening weekend of the 92nd anniversary Laconia Motorcycle Week saw a larger than usual turnout of bikers in the area as warm weather held sway.

That was the message city safety officials brought to the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association press conference held Monday morning at the NASWA Resort.

''It was a good weekend. There was lots of traffic and we had large, well-behaved crowds,'' said Capt. William McClary of the Laconia Police Department.

Laconia Fire Chief Ken Erickson said, ''There were lots of people and lots of traffic which was really intense for an opening weekend.''

Erickson said that the ninth annual Peter Makris Memorial Run on Saturday morning drew 160 riders and ''went off without a hitch.'' He thanked State Police, Laconia Police and police from the University of New Hampshire for providing an escort for the ride around Lake Winnipesaukee, which benefits the Laconia Fire Department Lifesaving Fund and Water Rescue Team and the Easter Seals NH Veterans Count program.

''We don't have the final count yet but I know that it puts the run at over $300,000 raised for charities since it was started,'' said Erickson, who said that following the ride around the lake a big crowd gathered at the NASWA.

Rain which fell Monday didn't put a damper on another charity ride which got under way at mid-morning, the the second annual Mae West Memorial Run, which benefits the New Hampshire Humane Society. It is run in honor of a cat named Mae West that Laconia Motorcycle Week executive director Charlie St. Clair adopted from the Humane Society and was his pet for 14 years.

The event, sponsored by Sick Boy Cycle, was the highest attended tour of last year's rally when it drew 180 riders and raised $5,700, according to Jennifer Anderson, director of the Laconia Motorcycle Week Association.

Today at 10:30 a.m. a Gypsy Tour ride leaves rally headquarters on the Weirs Beach boardwalk for a scenic ride to Bentley's Saloon in Arundel, Maine.

Wednesday will see a covered bridge Gypsy Tour leaving rally headquarters at 10:30 a.m. for a 200 mile scenic ride which will take in at least 10 covered bridges in New Hampshire.

On Thursday there will the annual ''Ride to the Sky'' up the Mt. Washington Auto Road, which is open only to motorcycles, and the 22nd annual POW/MIA Freedom Ride from Lowe's parking lot in Gilford to the POW/MIA monument at Hesky Park in Meredith. The ride gets under way at 6 p.m.

BEDC, city announce plan to purchase & renovate Colonial Theater

LACONIA — The city, in partnership with the Belknap Economic Development Council (BEDC), has committed itself to arranging a financial package of $15 million to acquire and renovate the long-closed Colonial Theater along with the commercial and residential units on the lot at 609-621 Main St.

Randy Eifert, chairman of BEDC, announced the pending transaction at Wayfarer Coffee Roasters yesterday afternoon to a packed house of more than 50 people who, upon hearing the news, burst into a spirited ovation of clapping and cheering.

"Government, at this level," Mayor Ed Engler said, "can be defined as what we decide to do together, and with our friends at BEDC we're going to do this."

Altogether the Colonial complex consists of 38,642 square feet, of which the theater itself represents approximately 20,000 square feet. It sits on a half-acre with 91 feet of frontage on Main Street and 209 feet of frontage on Canal Street. In addition to the theater, the property includes four retail units on Main Street, each of about 1,150 square feet, five retail units on Canal Street, ranging between 250 and 1,500 square feet, and 18 apartments on the second and third floors.

The BEDC through a wholly owned limited liability corporation — 609 Main Street, LLC — will purchase the property from current owner Patricia Baldi for $1.4 million. The city will loan the BEDC the purchase price to enable the sale to close in about 30 days. The loan will be secured by the property and the BEDC will pay only interest for the 18-month term of the loan.

The remainder of the financial package will assembled during the next 18 months. New Market tax credits and Historical Preservation tax credits against federal taxes, which will be sold to investors through national capital markets, will return approximately $7 million. A mix of federal and state grants will add some $3 million. Local funding will consist primarily of between $1 million and $2 million in contributions raised from private corporations, organizations and individuals.

Finally, at the closing of the financial package, the BEDC will repay its $1.4 million loan from the city, which in turn will lend BEDC between $2 million and $3 million with payments of interest only for a term of seven years to secure the financing for the renovation and restoration of the property.

Once the renovation is complete the city will lease the theater as its sole tenant for seven years, operating the property as a civic auditorium.

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.

In what Engler described as "a huge step," the city will become the sole tenant with exclusive authority to determine who uses the theater and at what cost, if any. After seven years the city will have an option to purchase the building for the face value of its outstanding loan to the BEDC. In other words, the city could choose between surrendering its interest in the property and demanding repayment of its loan or forgiving its loan to the BEDC and taking ownership of the property.

Engler stressed that the financial obligations assumed by the city in the course of purchasing and renovating the property will not exceed the limit on the amount to be raised by property taxes set by the tax cap in any year. The mayor drew a round of applause when urged everyone "to think of the theater as they think of the football field, as a civic amenity, a civic asset that belongs to all of us."

The mayor said that the City Council unanimously resolved to support the purchase and renovation of the property at a non-public meeting on May 26. In accordance with state law authorizing municipalities to enter public-private partnerships if the public benefit outweighs the private gain, he said that the City Council would hold a public hearing on Monday, June 29, after which when it will be prepared to declare that the necessary public benefits exists. He invited everyone to attend the public hearing and voice their support for the project.

Both Engler and Eifert expressed their thanks to the Board of Directors of the BEDC and the City Council for their part in furthering the transaction. In particular, they appreciated the contributions of real estate brokers Steve Weeks and Kevin Sullivan and attorney John Giere for their part in negotiating the sale.

Eifert noted that under the leadership former BEDC Executive Director Carmen Lorentz, who is now the director of the Division of Economic Development at the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development, BEDC, made redevelopment of vacant and underused property a priority of its strategic plan and chose to begin with the Colonial Theater.

Motorcycle manufacturer demo rides centered at Loudon speedway this year

LOUDON — Along with motorcycle racing on the last weekend of the rally, the New Hampshire Motor Speedway (NHMS) this year is hosting demonstration rides offered by five manufacturers, two dozen other vendors, various forms of entertainment and food and drink.

The venue is managed by Katancha of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a partnership of Kathy and Chase Micheal, both veterans Laconia Motorcyclee Week and other rallies from coast-to-coast, who produce more than a half-dozen similar events every year. .

Chase Micheal explained that in the past Harley-Davidson offered its demonstration rides in downtown Laconia and later at Laconia Harley-Davidson, but found that the volume of traffic at both locations diminished the quality of the experience. Two years ago, Harley-Davidson moved demonstration rides to the speedway and this year, in tandem with NHMS, approached Katancha.

Micheal said that in addition to Harley-Davidson, Yamaha, Victory, Indian and Can-Am will offer demonstration rides at NHMS. He said Harley-Davidson will have 44 bikes at the venues and expected each of the other manufacturers to have about 20. The rides would follow a loop described by N.H. Route 106 and Loudon Ridge Road and Lower Ridge Road of about 10 miles, which would be ridden in some 20 minutes. The traffic would be light and there would be ample opportunity to put the bikes through their paces, he said.

"When the demos are all together, all the manufacturers do better," Micheal said.

Apart from a handful of food vendors and a beer tent, most of the other vendors at the speedway would be dealers in parts and accessories, which can be purchased and installed on site. , Micheal said, He likened to the arrangement at Daytona, where there is what he called a "satellite" venue with demonstration rides, live entertainment, food and drink at the track.

David McGrath, vice-president of corporate sales at NHMS, said that since Harley-Davidson began offering demonstration rides at the speedway the number of rides has risen 200 percent. "This makes senses for all the other manufacturers," he remarked.