February 17. 2014 12:50PM

Exeter's historic Ioka theater back on the market

Union Leader Correspondent

EXETER— The Ioka Theater is back on the market after a local organization announced three months ago that it had failed to reach a deal to reopen the historic landmark.

The 99-year-old brick theater at 53 Water St. was listed for $499,900 with Ruffner Real Estate on Feb. 3.

The theater's future has been in limbo since the Exeter Theater Company, a nonprofit group, suspended its efforts to save the Ioka in November.

At one point, the theater company wanted to buy the theater from well-known Kensington philanthropist Alan Lewis, who purchased the Ioka at auction in 2011 with plans for it to be reopened and operated as a community-run theater.

The theater company later asked Lewis to gift the 6,000-square-foot building to the group because its members feared they wouldn't be able to meet their financial goals.

Lewis had most recently offered to sell the theater to the group for $400,000, but insisted that the building would need at least $4 million in renovations before it could reopen.

The Ioka closed in 2008 when its former owner faced financial problems and was put on the auction block.

The Exeter Theater Company was then formed and launched a campaign to raise money to resurrect the theater, but announced in November that it would return the money it collected from donors after putting its plan to purchase, restore and reopen the theater on hold.

The theater group has returned the money to supporters and has no plans to make an offer to purchase the theater, according to Tony Callendrello, chairman of the board of directors.

"We are waiting to see if a buyer does come forward and would very much like to work with that buyer to preserve the Ioka as a performing arts space. As a result of our efforts to reopen the Ioka, and given the large number of people in the Exeter area who have indicated their support, we are convinced that the Ioka can be successfully operated as a theater. We are prepared to apply our experience, plans, and other resources to help a new owner reopen the Ioka," Callendrello said.