Belknap Economic Development Council Executive Director Justin Slattery, bottom left, and BPS laborer Jaren Maynard observe the recent demolition of the projection room at the Colonial Theater in Laconia. With the financing for the remaining construction in place, Slattery said the theater will be ready for performances in about a year's time. (Adam Drapcho/The Laconia Daily Sun photo)

LACONIA — More than four years after the Colonial Theatre refurbishment was first proposed, the money to restore the once-opulent building is now in place.

Justin Slattery, executive director of the Belknap Economic Development Council, announced Monday that the $14.3 million funding package, including $8.1 million from the city of Laconia, has been finalized.

Mayor Ed Engler, the foremost proponent of the project that is intended to spur downtown revitalization, said it is a relief that the money for the year-long construction effort has been assembled. 

“It took longer than anyone ever anticipated, but we can’t look back, just forward,” he said. “Time will judge that this was very worthwhile and advantageous for the city to undertake.”

The 750-seat civic auditorium will accommodate a range of civic and cultural activities, including live stage performances and musical acts.

Slattery said that, in addition to the city money, the funding includes $1.7 million raised in a capital campaign, $1.15 million from the Community Development Finance Authority, $2,192,000 from Historic Tax Credits, $500,000 from the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, and $650,000 from various grants.

The project also will include four storefronts.

Rusty McLear, whose businesses jump-started Meredith’s economy, intends to invest more than $1 million to build at least eight market-rate housing units on the second and third floors of the building.

Work to restore the 105-year-old theater, once home to Vaudeville acts and later to a multi-screen cinema, should be completed next fall, Engler said.

"Government at this level can be defined as what we decide to do together, and with our partners at the Belknap Economic Development Council and many other partners, we have crossed a significant milestone today," he said in a statement.

The Belknap Economic Development Council has been organizing the project.

Slattery and EDC Chairman Chris Kelly released a joint statement expressing appreciation to those who have pushed the proposal forward, including more than 350 businesses and people who have made donations.

“We all should be proud of the collective efforts to develop the Colonial Theatre block in Laconia and build economic and community development,” the statement said.

The city will oversee the theater and its operations.

The 51,000-square-foot project will be one of the largest historic preservation efforts in state history, the EDC said in a news release.

Funding problems created multiple delays. 

In 2017, the project was unable to get New Market Tax Credits as organizers worked through increasing cost estimates for the intricate construction work required. Mascoma Savings Bank, which handled the tax credits, ultimately awarded the credits elsewhere.

Mascoma was not included in the next two yearly rounds of allocations.

The New Markets program attracts private capital into low-income areas. Investors receive a credit against their federal income tax in exchange for making investments through community development entities.

The City Council, which had already promised $5.1 million to revitalize the theater, ultimately decided this year to put another $3 million into the project to make it a reality.

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