A rendering of the Bank of NH Stage, a second performance venue for the Capitol Center for the Arts. Courtesy image.
Two New Hampshire theaters are reclaiming downtown buildings and transforming them into cultural centers. The Capitol Center for the Arts (CCA) is rehabilitating a former movie house that sits 900 feet from its main theater on South Main Street in Concord while the Palace Theatre officially kicked off the restoration of the Rex Theatre on Amherst Street in Manchester in January.
CCA purchased the former movie house in 2018 after raising $4 million of the $6.4 million needed for the project and three years of planning. Funds raised include a $312,000 tax credit from the Community Development Finance Authority. The new space—dubbed the Bank of NH Stage in recognition of a multi-year contribution—will add a second performance venue for CCA and will include moveable stadium seating as well as fixed balcony seats to accommodate different sized groups from 300 to 450.
The Bank of NH Stage, a second performance venue for the Capitol Center for the Arts, under construction. Photo by Christine Carignan.
A second-floor bar and café will overlook Main Street, and the theater will include a movie screen with surround sound and HD video. CCA’s main theater sits back from the street, but the new venue will include a permanent box office with street-level window service for both venues, which will increase visibility. A soft opening is planned for summer.
CCA Executive Director Nicolette Clarke says not all acts and artists are served by the theater’s current 1,300-seat venue that only offers fixed seating.
“We have programs in the [main] theater that are not appropriate as the audience is too small,” Clarke says, adding the new venue will allow CCA to book more small acts and have the flexibility to book more larger acts on the main stage.
Clarke estimates the new venue will allow CCA to add 150 new performances annually. “Our hope is to build on Concord’s reputation as a cultural destination,” Clarke says.
The new venue’s movable seating will allow CCA to book bands that don’t want a seated audience but rather want a club-feel, which will, in turn, allow the CCA to attract younger crowds, Clarke says. “There is a group of younger people who said, ‘we will come when you have the bands we want to see,’” she says.
Members of the CCA staff and board of directors reached out to the community about the new venue. “It was exciting for us to hear the perspective of young professionals on creating a vibrant night life for the community,” says Katie Collins, CCA’s director of development.
In Manchester, a vacant space on Amherst Street once known as the Rex Theater is being restored through a unique public-private partnership. It will become an entertainment space once again, and could open as soon as October. According to Peter Ramsey, president and CEO of The Palace Theatre, the city is leasing the building to the Palace for 10 years and providing a loan of $1.7 million from economic development funds, not tax revenue. He says after the loan is repaid, they will buy the building from the city for $1. The city bought the building seven years ago and hasn’t be able to revitalize it.
The interior of the Rex Theatre, prior to refurbishment. Photo by Christine Carignan.
“People suggested knocking it down and making a parking lot, but it would only create 10 spaces.”
Ramsey says. “We will be bringing 50,000 people downtown who will attend a show, buy dinner and pay for parking. It’s a true partnership.”
“It’s going to give us another cultural outlet for the city, and it is going to lead to some economic development and further improve the quality of life downtown,” says J. Michael Perrella, a trustee of the Palace Theatre.
The Rex theater opened in 1946 as a movie house, according to John Clayton, executive director of the Manchester Historic Association. He says the Rex was a modest theater with about 300 to 400 seats. “In the ’70s it was the King Cinema and from the 1990s to 2000 it was a rave club called Club Liquid,” Clayton says. “It is nice to see it return to a wholesome venue that will benefit the entire downtown.”
Ramsey says the new Rex will have 300 seats and host musical performances that won’t fill the Palace as well as movies, private weddings and even corporate events.