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Restoration of Laconia's Colonial Theater slowed by dearth of tax credit buyers

Union Leader Correspondent

July 04. 2018 10:50PM
Shuttered in 2001, the Colonial Theater's original magnificence shines through in Laconia. (Bea Lewis/Union Leader Correspondent)

Justin Slattery is executive director of the Belknap Economic Development Council, which in 2015 purchased the Colonial Theatre and plans to renovate the block with a public-private partnership using a blend of financing options. (BEA LEWIS/UNION LEADER CORRESPONDENT)

LACONIA — Difficulty in securing $5.6 million in tax credits as part of the $17.2 million revitalization of the historic Colonial Theatre will delay construction for at least another year.

But Justin Slattery, executive director of the Belknap Economic Development Council, remains confident the project will advance.

“We continue to just keep pushing. The community supports it and knows it is a good project for the city and the region,” he said of the theater that was shuttered in 2001.

In August 2015, Belknap EDC, announced it had purchased the 103-year-old Colonial Theatre property and planned to renovate it over the next five years in a public-private partnership with the city using a blend of financing options. The city provided a $1.4 million interest-only loan for the purchase and continues to assist in fundraising.

The restoration will include 14 one- and two-bedroom apartments in the block as well as four 1,000-square-foot retail spaces. The 750-seat theater will be a civic auditorium that will revert to city ownership.

A key component of the multiple sources being used to fund the project are New Market Tax Credits (NMTC), which are allocated by the federal government to community development entities. The program gives a 39 percent federal tax credit over seven years in exchange for private investment in economically distressed communities.

New Hampshire has just one certified community development entity, a subsidiary of Mascoma Savings Bank. In 2017, Mascoma Community Development was not among the NMTC recipients.

Slattery does not know when the next round of NMTCs will be released, but it may occur in March 2018.

The Colonial Theatre project has also applied for $2.4 million in federal Historic Tax Credits and is now in Phase II of the approval process. The project has additionally received a $500,000 grant from the Land & Community Heritage Investment Program and the N.H. Community Development Finance Authority awarded $650,000 in tax credits to the project.

“My whole thought on this is that we can’t let it fail. This is the best opportunity to do it and a lot of people are looking forward to it. We’re doing the best we can to make it happen,” said Ward 5 City Councilor Bob Hamel, who serves on the committee overseeing the project. Other members include Mayor Ed Engler, Ward 3 Councilor Henry Lipman and four board members of the Belknap EDC.

The city has a growing number of assets including the River Walk, the WOW Trail, and has made the investment to build a new fire station, police department and schools, Hamel said.

“We have many major expenses behind us and a lot of good projects out of the way. I hope we can get the Colonial done. I’d be thrilled to walk in to a beautifully renovated theater and see a show,” he said.

To date, the capital campaign has raised $1.5 million from 350 businesses and private donors. That grassroots support, Slattery said, is proof positive that people in the community realize the importance of saving the historic theater and know how much of an economic driver that it can become.

“I can’t say enough about the community support,” he said, adding he had just opened a note from a Center Harbor man who had written asking how he could help.

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