It’s been 23 years since the old Concord Theatre on South Main Street closed its doors for good, but there’s a renewed effort to bring it back to life.
The theater opened in 1933, but has sat vacant for years. It’s likely many who pass by the building are unaware of the history inside.
Nicki Clarke is executive director of the Capitol Center for the Arts, which is involved in a $5.5 million project to revamp the theater as a mid-sized event venue.
Clark spoke with NHPR’s Morning Edition about the project.
Where did this idea come from?
Well, there are sort of two prongs to this story. One is the Capital Center – we are in our 21st year of presenting the arts at 44 South Main Street – we had realized it was time to make some investments in our own facilities. One of the things we felt we were lacking was a smaller theater to do intimate kinds of programming. We had in our plans for our capital campaign thought about transforming our kitchen, which is behind our banquet room, into a small theater. And then a year ago at this time, Steve Duprey gave us a call and said I know you’re thinking about making a small theater inside the Capital Center, but I think I have a better idea for you.
And he’s done a lot of development in downtown Concord.
He’s a major developer in downtown Concord, and he’s a former board member, so we knew him well. And he said for years I’ve been trying to buy the old Concord Theatre, how about looking at this and seeing if we can bring that back to life.
And the Concord Theatre is kind of a historic spot in downtown.
It has. It actually started in 1860 and was a bakery. It actually made hard tack for the union soldiers. And then after it finished its life as a bakery in the ‘20s, it was picked up and a woman and her sister ran it as a first-run movie theater.
And when did it close down?
It closed down in 1994 and has been sitting vacant since. The current owners have just held onto it. They own other property in the downtown. I’m not sure what their plans were, but Steve has been calling them every year to see if they would sell, and this past year, they said they were now ready to talk about selling the theater.
What’s the business model for the Capitol Center? You’ve got a theater that sits 1,300. Could that be in competition with what you’re doing there?
Actually, it will really complement it very well. We’ve talked with some local theaters that would love to have a venue where they could do a weekend run or a two-weekend run. Some of the music groups in town would love to have a venue that’s appropriately sized. And what is great about our plans for the Concord Theatre is that it will have flexibility to it in its seating. It will sit about 300 people, but it can also become an open, flat floor, which will allow for 450 people to attend.
What is the timetable for this project? Obviously there’s a lot of puzzle pieces that would have to come together in terms of funding.
Part of the puzzle is something called New Market Tax Credits, which we work with a bank to do. That’s part of the funding puzzle. In addition, we’re applying for some historic tax credits, some federal tax credits, and the LCHIP program here in the state that helps with historic restorations. We would like to get some funding from the Community Development Finance Authority, which are the state tax credits where we go out to our business sponsors and ask them if they will buy credit. So all of this has to come together, plus the Capitol Center and Mr. Duprey need to privately raise $2.5 million.
How confident do you feel this can get done?
I think it can get done. There does seem to be a lot of interest in it. I do think this size theater, there isn’t one like it Concord. It fits a lot of needs. Like every nonprofit, you’re hoping those people will step forward and make those gifts because they want to have that kind of cultural life in their community.
So you feel there’s a lot of support. Have you heard a lot of feedback in terms of how people feel about this?
We actually have. We’re getting posts on our Facebook page when we put something up about it, and people are saying they remember going to that theater when they were a kid and they loved it. Sometimes they will mention the mice that scooted across their feet. There’s a lot of fond memories of the two little old ladies who ran it way into their elderly years.
It sounds like there’s a lot of interesting background stories about this theater.
There are. We’ve been told this was the only women-owned first-run movie theater in the country, particularly back in the 1930s, when they got started. They actually had to fight against a lawsuit to be able to bid for movies.
Is there a timetable for where things are going to be six months or a year from now?
The plan is we really have all the financial pieces together a year from now and then would be able to go into the construction phase, with the hope that in the summer of 2019 it would be done and we could open in the fall of 2019.
One hurdle you were waiting on was city support for this.
We went before the city council Monday night. With our LCHIP application, one of the questions is have you gone before a town meeting or city council to get their endorsement of the project. And it was unanimously given to us at that meeting.