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Deal Will Restore Laconia's 101-Year-Old Colonial Theatre

Michael Brindley for NHPR

An iconic part of Laconia’s downtown will soon be reborn.

In a deal announced this week, the Belknap Economic Development Council will purchase the historic Colonial Theatre for $1.4 million.

The city will loan the group the money to buy the theater, and assist in raising the $15 million needed for renovations.

The Colonial opened in 1914, but has been shut down since 2001.

Justin Slattery, executive director of the Belknap Economic Development Council, joined NHPR’s Morning Edition to talk about plans for the theater.

There have been efforts before by groups to purchase the theater and bring it back to life, but those have failed. What made this deal work?

I wouldn’t say they failed. They more continued to move the project forward. This deal was a real partnership between many local leaders, including the city, the Belknap EDC, and many civic-minded leaders in the community that really wanted to see the Colonial brought back to its majestic glory. This time, we were able to put together the structure to get the project moving.

Credit Michael Brindley for NHPR
Justin Slattery, executive director of the Belknap Economic Development Council

This is a purchase and sale agreement, and the city is involved in the plans. Can you go into the financial details?

We will be seeking many economic development incentives, grants, and even fundraising as well to put together the funding stack to be able to renovate the Colonial Theatre, its commercial spaces, and also its residential spaces. We’ll be using many tools, such as a Community Development Block Grant, historic tax credits, and other programs that are available for projects like this, in downtowns to really be catalysts for rebirth and economic growth.

How big a deal is this for Laconia’s downtown?

It’s really the catalyst to downtown and the rebirth of downtown Laconia. If you’re familiar with the Colonial Theatre, it’s right in downtown. It is really the key to bringing people downtown. I really believe this will be helpful to the businesses down there, especially the small businesses and some of the newer businesses that have invested in downtown to really help it grow.

Have you looked at other cities and towns around the state that have renovated their historic theaters? Have you talked to those groups to see what’s worked and what hasn’t?

Credit Michael Brindley for NHPR
The marquee of the Colonial Theatre alludes to the deal struck between the BEDC and the city of Laconia.

We have been talking with different theater organizations in the state. One that’s a good example to look at is the Colonial Theater actually in Keene. They have really done a great job of bringing that theater back to just a spectacular place. They have events going on almost every day of the year. I’ve been working closely with them especially.

Once everything is finished, the city will lease the 1,200 seat theater as a civic auditorium for seven years. What type of events are you envisioning there?

I envision school plays, local theater groups using the facility, other educational opportunities, perhaps the local community college. Nonprofits could host their events there. It really will serve a great purpose, not only for Laconia but for the whole Lakes Region.

Is there something really unique about the theater that you’re really excited to see brought back?

It’s interesting, I’m glad you asked that; the fresco architecture in the building. The ceiling, the stage, and other areas of the building are still intact. The building will need a lot of rehabilitation, but it is an amazing structure to look at. The architecture is incredible and it really is a piece of New Hampshire’s history and Laconia’s history, so we really look forward to bringing it back to full use and being a great civic amenity for the city and the region.

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
Michael serves as NHPR's Program Director. Michael came to NHPR in 2012, working as the station's newscast producer/reporter. In 2015, he took on the role of Morning Edition producer. Michael worked for eight years at The Telegraph of Nashua, covering education and working as the metro editor.
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