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.

'Chrome Hill' at the Naswa featuring artisan watches & jewelry for the motorcycle enthusiast

LACONIA — To help celebrate its 80th anniversary, G. Smith Motorsports of Louisiana has returned to the Naswa Resort on Weirs Blvd. for Motorcycle Week, bringing award-winning jeweler Steve Soffa along as one of its special guests.

Along with the excitement of Chrome Hill in the upper parking lot across the street from the resort's main office, Soffa has set up a traveling studio to showcase his unique and upscale jewelry and sculpture pieces — many of them specifically geared toward the motorcycle enthusiast.

Along with the 50-year commemorative watches designed for G. Smith Motorsports, Soffa is the official timepiece designer for the 75th anniversary of the motorcycle renowned rally at Sturgis, South Dakota and the official bracelet designer of the World Series of Poker.

Soffa started his career in 1993 as a rookie salesman at a branding watch company. A few years later, he was recruited by a Los Angeles Company to build their commemorative watch collection.

In this role, he designed watches for Wells Fargo, Universal, and Apple computer.

Always are artist in his own right, Soffa said he's been painting, drawing and designing since he was 6-years-old, he left the Los Angeles company in 2002 to begin work on his own collections of time pieces that he launched in 2005 in Las Vegas.

As his business became more well known and his clientele became more upscale, he began designing custom jewelry like rings and bracelets for both sexes to complement his watches and time pieces.

Recently, he has expanded his collection such that each timepiece or article of jewelry comes in it own specially designed box that mirrors the art piece.

Soffa individually inspects all of his raw material including the stones — mostly diamond and rubies — for authenticity so as to make sure they are not conflict stones.

Soffa also does individual commemorative pieces for individual. One of his pieces was a watch face that was a photo of his client's grandparent who he used to design watches for both of them.

True to Motorcycle week, Soffa has an unusual and ornate brand of skull rings in his and her sizes and some bullet jewelry including some Federal (ammo) earrings.

He described his shop and his employees as something akin to the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory in that its private and he doesn't make his jewelry at public displays.

He said he want's his clients to walk away with the feeling that a Steve Soffa piece "should be timeless. It was made especially for me and I was part of it."

Soffa's exhibit, along with the other events at Chrome Hill that include a Ferrari and a Lamborghini, some V-8 choppers designed by G. Smith Motorsports.

G. Smith Motorsports and Magnolia Companies of Louisiana is one of the prime sponsors of this years Peter Makris Memorial Run that raises money for charities.


CUTLINE: Artist and watchmaker Steve Soffa shows off his 75th anniversary Sturgis Rally brochure at Chrome Hill during yesterday set up period.

A Steve Soffa Hard Core Watch complete with the matching box it comes in. The matching boxes are one of Soffa's specialties as is his complete Hard Core line. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Gail Ober)