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March 04. 2013 7:12PM

Exeter community group needs $600,000 to buy Ioka Theater

EXETER - The Exeter Theater Company is holding several community events and fundraisers this month in hopes of raising the $600,000 needed to purchase the historic Ioka theater before a March 31 deadline.

From meet and greets and house parties to the showing of silent films, the nonprofit group is determined to reopen the 98-year-old theater after it was purchased at auction by Kensington Exeter LLC, a company owned by Kensington resident Alan Lewis, in December 2011.

Lewis wanted the landmark to reopen as a community-run theater and the theater group had planned to work out a long-term lease agreement.

When the two sides were unable to make a deal, the theater group launched an effort to try to buy the theater on its own. It entered into an agreement with Kensington Exeter LLC for an option to buy the theater for $600,000, but the option period ends March 31.

The events scheduled this month are part of the group's "Century Campaign for the Ioka." The goal is to eventually raise as much as $4.6 million for the purchase, renovation and reopening of the downtown theater.

Tony Callendrello, chairman of the theater company's board of directors, said the group will have until March 31 to exercise its option to purchase the theater with another 60 days to close on the sale.

Callendrello said the group has received many contributions from smaller individual donors, but will need the commitment of larger ones.

"We are working with a number of potential large donors and also exploring alternative ways of financing the purchase price of the Ioka," he said.

Callendrello said the group initially asked for more time but weren't able to get it.

He called the community support for the project "fantastic."

"There are thousands of local residents who have expressed support for the theater including over 1,400 who became paying members of the Exeter Theater Company. Those members as well as individuals who hadn't previously joined are supporting us by making new and additional contributions," he said, adding that the local business community has also supported the effort by hosting information and fundraising events.

Businesses recognize that the theater will bring new customers to downtown Exeter, he said.

If the group buys the theater, the campaign will continue to raise the money needed to renovate and reopen the building.

Renovating the theater would take about 20 months. Callendrello said the goal is to have the theater ready to open in 2015 to mark its 100th year.

Upcoming events include a meet and greet with the Exeter Area Chamber of Commerce this Thursday followed by a Buster Keaton silent film double feature Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Exeter Town Hall. Silent film musician Jeff Rapsis will provide live accompaniment to Buster Keaton classics "The Cameraman" and "Sherlock Jr." Admission is $15 with proceeds benefiting the Ioka.

Board members and volunteers with the theater company will host a phone-a-thon on Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. They plan to raise awareness of their campaign by calling community members.

An Ioka information soiree will also be held on March 13 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Exeter Mill, 10 Chestnut St. The event will give residents of Exeter Mill, the Water Street business community and the public a chance to hear from those working on the Ioka plan.

A reception at Water Street Bookstore, 125 Water St., is planned for March 20 at 7 p.m., where the Ioka team will be available and some of the proceeds of book sales will benefit the theater.

An information session will be held March 28 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Exeter Public Library, 4 Chestnut St.

The theater company is also hosting a series of house parties in the Seacoast area.

More information on the Ioka plan can be found on the Exeter Theater Company's website, exetertheater.org, and on its Facebook page.

jschreiber@newstote.com


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