EXETER – A deadline for the Exeter Theater Company to exercise its option to purchase the historic Ioka theater has come and gone.
The nonprofit group that's been making plans to save the 98-year-old theater in downtown Exeter decided not to put down a $60,000 non-refundable deposit by the March 31 deadline imposed by its current owner, Kensington Exeter LLC.
Kensington resident Alan Lewis bought the financially-strapped theater at auction in December 2011 and has been working with the theater group on a plan to resurrect the shuttered theater.
When efforts to establish a long-term lease failed, Lewis gave the theater group the option to purchase the Ioka for the $600,000 that Kensington Exeter LLC paid when it bought the building.
The theater group's ultimate goal is to raise an estimated $4.6 million to not only purchase the theater but also complete a major renovation to reopen the landmark.
Tony Callendrello, chairman of the theater company's board of directors, issued a statement Tuesday announcing it had decided to let the deadline pass but isn't giving up on its effort to give the theater a new life.
"After long and thoughtful consideration, and consultation with business and philanthropic leaders in the Seacoast community, we have decided to let the end date pass without exercising the option," he said in the statement. "I want to be clear - our resolve to purchase, renovate, and reopen the Ioka Theater remains unchanged. We fully intend to see this mission through. We have all worked too long and hard – hundreds of community members, dozens of volunteers, and the Exeter Theater Company board – to stop now."
Exercising the option would have required the group to put down a $60,000 non-refundable deposit that would have been paid for entirely through donations.
"We feel a responsibility to each and every one of our donors and did not feel we could take the risk of losing that deposit, as has happened in previous attempts to purchase the Ioka," Callendrello said.
He added that despite the "enthusiastic response from hundreds of donors at all levels across the region, many major backers are waiting in the wings to provide support, but not until we acquire the building. Their reason for hesitation is that, by all estimates, the building is worth far less than the $600,000 asking price. Unfortunately, the theater continues to lose value due to damage caused by a leaking roof in winter weather."
Callendrello said he feels confident that once the theater company gains control of the theater, larger donors will come forward to help raise the money needed for renovations.
"But until that time, we can't risk breaching the promise we made to all of our donors – that we would use their money in a wise and responsible manner. To that end, we remain committed to our original pledge to return donations to anyone who makes that request," he said, adding that he hopes donors will "stay with us as we continue our steady progress towards our common goal of saving the Ioka."
The theater group gathered dozens of testimonials from people who want to save the Ioka at a rally held last Saturday. Those testimonials have been passed on to Lewis "as a starting point for a new dialogue about transferring his ownership of the building to us," Callendrello said.