EXETER — Speculation is swirling about the future of Exeter’s historic Ioka theater as it appears the building may soon be sold.
Ruffner Real Estate, which listed the property, has indicated that a sale is pending for the building at 53 Water St., but little is known about any potential buyer.
“I honestly do not know and I can’t wait to find out. I’m excited and I’ll do whatever I can to help the future owner,” said Darren Winham, the town’s economic development director.
Florence Ruffner, owner of Ruffner Real Estate, could not immediately be reached for comment on the pending sale Tuesday afternoon.
The Ioka was built in 1915 and served as a local movie theater for decades before it encountered financial troubles and closed in 2008.
The property — located in the heart of the downtown area — was sold to Kensington philanthropist Alan Lewis, the principal owner of Kensington Investment Company, for $600,000 through an auction in 2011.
Lewis wanted to see the building restored and reopened as a community-run theater and at one point tried to work out a deal with a nonprofit group known as the Exeter Theater Company. The group launched a fundraising campaign to save the theater, but it suspended its efforts in 2013.
The building was eyed for a possible restaurant and brewery in 2015, but that proposal also never came to fruition.
It has sat vacant since it closed, raising concerns about the theater’s condition as it remains unused.
The property was put up for sale for $800,000 in 2016, but was taken off the market. Now back on the market, it is listed for $750,000.
The Ioka was named one of the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance’s “Seven to Save.”
Winham said he doesn’t know if the potential buyer is a nonprofit, a developer interested in redeveloping the property for mixed use, or someone interested in opening it again as some type of theater.
“I just want to see it be a vibrant property and see that whoever invests in it is able to reap the rewards,” he said.