Laconia, NH

Contact Name
Justin Slattery
Project Dates
2019-2020
Tags
Downtown preservation/main streets
The Belknap Economic Development Council (BEDC) as 609 Main Street, LLC has purchased the historic Colonial Theater Block in Downtown Laconia and plans to invest $14,614,430 in the renovation of this highly distressed but extremely significant historic property. Subsequent to the renovation BEDC will lease the theater portion of the building to the City of Laconia. BEDC will also renovate and lease out at least three storefront commercial spaces on Main Street and create fourteen market rate apartments on the upper floors of the block.

There already exists overwhelming private support in the form of donations to the project and exceedingly positive support in the media and across the business community in Laconia. In addition the City of Laconia has committed lease the theater.
Project Goals
What were the specific goals of this creative economy project? Describe the community development challenge or opportunity that your project was designed to address:
The goal of the project is to support downtown revitalization and small business growth by creating an arts-focused anchor attraction in downtown Laconia that will generate significantly more economic activity and foot traffic downtown. We will conduct an annual windshield survey to track the vacancy rate downtown as the Colonial Theatre project moves forward and we will poll businesses on their annual sales and employment levels each year during the reporting period to measure if the project is having the desired impact. We anticipate that after the completion of Colonial Theatre project, over $1 million in annual new sales will be generated at existing and new downtown businesses. This will support approximately 17 new jobs (12 direct and 5 indirect) being created downtown and will save another five jobs, which is the typical number of jobs lost as a result of regular turnover of storefronts due to the weak market that currently exists downtown. These jobs are typical jobs at small-scale retail shops, which tend to be micro-enterprises employing the owner(s) directly. They are year-round jobs that provide a living wage for enterprising small business owners. See the brief economic impact statement attached under Other Attachments for details and assumptions used to arrive at these numbers.
If the goals change over time, please describe how:
N/A
Who was involved in this project and what did they do? (be sure to include the partners from outside of the creative sector and how local voices were included):
The City of Laconia is an investor in this project and has led efforts to redevelop Downtown Laconia. Organizations such as the Laconia School District , Lakes Region Community College, the Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, Streetcar Company (local performing arts non-profit), Putnam Fund (local charitable organization), and several other community partners have been working closely with Belknap EDC to plan the project and develop operational systems for the completed Theater project.

Further details:

Cultural Arts Center of the Lakes Region, Inc. (fundraising partner)

City of Laconia (funding partner and master tenant)

Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce (general partner)

Lakes Region Community College (general partner)

Belknap Mill Society (general partner)

Streetcar Company (potential user of theater)

Putnam Fund (potential user of theater)

Laconia School District (potential user of theater)

Business Community (user of theater and funding)
How does this project relate to a larger community development strategy?
The Colonial Theater has been called a "jewel box" by preservationists and historians, the "key catalyst" to the rebirth of Laconia by economists, and the "community development project" that will lead to more private investment in Laconia and the region building economic opportunity. The project's completion will impact the community in many ways by building a renewed sesne of pride, driving foot traffic to Downtown Laconia, and supporting surrounding businesses and increasing property values in the City of Laconia. The positive momentum of the planned project has already led to new businesses opening and expanding in the Downtown area.

This project will increase the tax base downtown by increasing business opportunity downtown, which will incentivize downtown property owners to make improvements to capture a larger piece of the growing market. According to data from the Laconia Assessor’s office, total assessed value in the downtown Laconia TIF district is approximately $153 million. The TIF district encompasses a larger area than the immediate downtown core. Assessed value within this district has grown by more than 100% since the district was established in 2004, due largely to the conversion of the old Allen Rogers mill into market rate condominiums. TIF district records indicate that almost NO significant improvements have been made to properties in the downtown core around the Colonial Theatre since 2004. This is the area surveyed in April 2015 that includes the 68 contiguous storefronts in the triangle shaped core of downtown (Main St, Veteran’s Square, and Pleasant Street) where there is a 20% first-floor vacancy rate. It is clear that the Colonial Theatre in its current state makes this part of downtown very unattractive to private investors. This project will also improve health and safety by addressing code violations that exist in the Colonial Theatre, which pose a health and safety risks to the general public.
What projects or places, if any, inspired your approach to this creative economy project?
Keene NH Downtown Development Projects
Concord NH Downtown Redevelopment Projects
Project Specifics
Please list the steps taken to implement the project:
N/A
Obstacles
What were your major obstacles for the completion of the project?
Timing of financing was major obstacle.
Who or what was instrumental in overcoming these obstacles?
Still working on it, but working closely with state and federal leaders to keep project on track.
What top three suggestions would you give to others attempting a similar project?
1. Develop proper contingency plans.
2. Develop well-defined marketing plan.
3. Develop relationships with all community stakeholders to ensure support for project.
Project Impact
How has this project strategically connected arts and cultural activities to social, economic, and cultural issues in your community? What is different in your community as a result of this project?
TBD
Why do you consider the project successful, as related to your project goals above?
TBD-Construction has not started.
How did you measure this success or progress?
A vibrant and active Colonial Theatre will provide the missing link in Laconia’s downtown revitalization efforts and significantly improve downtown’s sense of place. In addition to generating a stronger business climate, this project will support the community’s long-term goal of retaining and attracting young people. Community and economic development practitioners agree that strong downtowns make young people feel connected to their communities and passionate about where they live, which translates into a community’s ability to attract and retain young people. With this project, Belknap EDC seeks to enhance downtown Laconia’s sense of creative place by providing an arts space that will encourage creativity and further strengthen Laconia’s community identity in a way that is highly attractive to young people and all residents.

The economic development potential of the historic Colonial Theatre is highlighted in the City of Laconia’s 2007 Master Plan and the EPA Smart Growth Plan also prepared for the City in 2007. In Fall of 2010, the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance added the Colonial Theatre to its “Seven to Save” list of most threatened historic landmarks statewide in response to a request from the City. The City also commissioned a feasibility study for the Theater from Webb Management Services in 2010 (attached).

The Greater Laconia community continues to demonstrate overwhelming support for this project. A public hearing regarding the City's funding involvement in the project in June 2015 had more than 200 residents who all spoke in favor of the project. The project has been highlighted in both local and statewide media with widespread attention. The Laconia Citizen reported this past January that the announcement of the project was its' #1 news story of the year.

As further evidence of community support, when the City submitted the “Seven to Save” application for the Colonial Theatre to the NH Preservation Alliance in the Fall of 2010, over 65 prominent members of the community signed a statement of support.

CDFA tax credits are crucial to this project because they will enable the organization to obtain larger corporate donations, which will create the fundraising momentum necessary to reach the the funding goal of $14.6MM to renovate and reopen the theater and its adjoining residential and commercial spaces. We have already secured commitments from two local businesses to purchase approximately $275,000 in tax credits. This may be the last opportunity that the community has to preserve this historic treasure and ensure that its redevelopment and reuse support the community’s vision and goals.
Please describe any unexpected impacts:
Federal funding has been a challenge as timing of awards has been pushed back several times which has affected the project's construction start.