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Plans for live music venue on Amherst Street in Manchester fall through

New Hampshire Union Leader

March 01. 2017 12:11AM

MANCHESTER — A city man working to bring a live music venue to the former home of the historic Rex Theatre on Amherst Street announced Tuesday negotiations with city officials for the property are over, with both sides unable to agree on terms of a purchase and sale agreement for the property.

Matt Wilhelm, executive director of Old Sol Music Hall, Inc., said he posted the announcement on the project’s website “with regret.”

“After months of negotiations, Old Sol Productions and the Manchester Development Corporation were unable to agree to terms for the purchase and sale of the historic Rex Theatre at 23 Amherst Street,” reads Wilhelm’s statement. “We are grateful to everyone that has contributed to developing Old Sol from an idea into a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization over the last year. By supporting and attending Old Sol’s cultural and civic programming, you’ve made an important statement about the power of music to strengthen the fabric of our community. We look forward to your continued partnership as we explore how to best achieve our mission of leveraging the arts to create positive social and environmental impact.”

Wilhelm said he was unable to comment further on the breakdown in negotiations, citing a confidentiality clause.

“There’s not much more I can say at this time,” said Wilhelm.

Melanie Sanuth, Manchester’s new economic development director, directed all questions regarding the negotiation process to Manchester Development Corporation Chairman David Eaton. Eaton did not return a call or email from a New Hampshire Union Leader reporter Tuesday seeking comment.

In his statement, Wilhelm also said proposals to develop performance halls in other New Hampshire communities unveiled in recent weeks factored into the decision to end negotiations with the MDC.

“Also within the last week, plans for mid-size live music venues were announced in both Nashua and Concord, raising concerns about the viability of three venues with similar capacities within a 20-mile radius of Manchester,” said Wilhelm in his statement. “In light of these recent developments, we are taking time to regroup and consider what’s next for Old Sol Music Hall.”

Those projects include a proposal revealed last month by Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess to potentially convert the Gate City’s historic Central Fire Station on Court Street into a music venue, with help from Great American Downtown and Ben Ruddock of Riverwalk Cafe.

“This venue could bring first-rate musicians performing Americana, Indie, bluegrass and other diverse genres to downtown,” said Donchess during his State of the City address last month. Donchess is hopeful the venue might attract up to 300 people to downtown Nashua on a regular basis.

In Concord, officials at the Capitol Center for the Performing Arts discussed plans to revamp the old Concord Theatre, vacant for the last 23 years. The $4 million proposal would transform the site into a multi-use venue capable of hosting standing room only crowds of 400 people, or seating for more than 200 people.

After an affirmative vote by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) on July 7, 2015, MDC entered into an agreement to purchase the property at 23 Amherst Street, former site of the historic Rex Theatre and Club Liquid dance club.

In 2001, Manchester officials temporarily closed a club there because of crowding they deemed life-threatening, and for other safety code violations. A fire that same year also temporarily shuttered the club, which also came under scrutiny because of patrons getting arrested after leaving. The club finally closed permanently several years later.

Under the terms approved by the BMA, the MDC and/or eventual owner/operator continue to pay property taxes. The building was purchased using MDC funds, which are separate from city funds.

The city paid $412,500 for the property, located one block away from the busy Elm Street corridor and next to the circuit court building.

To initiate the redevelopment of the building, the MDC released a Request for Partnerships in February 2016 seeking proposals to renovate and operate the building as a venue for live music, theatre, movies, community and private events. Wilhelm responded, and negotiations for the site began.

Sanuth said Tuesday it was unclear at this time if another Request for Partnerships for the property would be issued. She said the topic will appear as an agenda item for the next meeting of the MDC’s board of directors, scheduled for 7:30 a.m. March 9 at 20 Market St. in the 1st floor conference room.

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