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Paul Feely's City Hall: Old theater could be 'big win' for Manchester

October 14. 2017 11:13PM
The former Rex Theatre, more recently known as Club Liquid, on Amherst Street in Manchester. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Ever since plans to bring a live music venue to the former home of the old Rex Theatre on Amherst Street were abandoned last February, city officials have been looking for another buyer to breathe new life into the site. The search could end Tuesday, when a tentative purchase and sale agreement for the property goes before city aldermen.

The purchase proposal from The Rex LLC - a partnership between philanthropist Liz Hitchcock and Gray Chynoweth, chief membership officer and deputy chief operating officer for the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute in the Millyard - was approved by the Manchester Development Corporation (MDC) last Thursday.

After an affirmative vote by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen on July 7, 2015, the development corporation entered into an agreement to purchase the property at 23 Amherst St., once home to the Rex movie theater and later 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.

The city paid $412,500 - using development corporation funds, which are separate from city funds - for the property, one block away from the busy Elm Street corridor and next to the circuit court building, once home to the Union Leader.

According to a copy of the proposal, the purchase price - contingent upon approval by city aldermen - is $400,000. According to the 'Use of Premises' section of the agreement, Hitchcock and Chynoweth intend to use the site as a "performance/theatrical venue, music hall and community center," similar to ones operating in Londonderry and Portsmouth.

"We are excited to move to the next stage of this effort, which will allow us to truly engage with potential community partners such as The Palace Theater and other arts and educational institutions in the city and around the state to determine whether Manchester can seize this opportunity," said Hitchcock and Chynoweth in a joint statement.

Mayor Ted Gatsas said he believes the proposal is "fair" to the MDC, and a "big win" for the city.

"Their vision and investment in The Rex Theatre property will bring a new family entertainment venue to downtown Manchester, increase surrounding area property values, and contribute immensely to the vibrancy of downtown," writes Gatsas in a letter to city aldermen.

Aldermen are expected to discuss the pair's plans for the site in detail when they meet Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.

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Also on the agenda for Tuesday's BMA meeting: A presentation by Gatsas, Asst. Public Works Director Tim Clougherty and Director of Central Fleet Services Kevin O'Malley on a solar power purchase agreement for the city.

In his 12-point plan for Manchester's future, released on Oct. 5, Gatsas focuses on solar power under Item 11 promising, "I will continue to bring forward responsible energy projects that benefit the taxpayer including adding solar to our portfolio for additional savings."

Specifics of the agreement were still under wraps at week's end.

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The Ward 2 alderman race between Bob O'Sullivan and Will Stewart is getting interesting. O'Sullivan released a "30-60-90 Plan" regarding opioid abuse. Under it, the first time someone is revived following an overdose the individual would spend 30 days in jail. The second time would result in a 60-day sentence, the third 90 days behind bars.

O'Sullivan followed that up with a mailer attacking Stewart, featuring pictures of his opponent in a tuxedo and bow tie on a bike and posing in lederhosen.

"If Will Stewart was a serious candidate he'd be addressing our city's drug problem," reads the mailer, "instead his website is promoting bike lanes and 'street art.' We don't need another dandy and self-promoter."

Stewart responded late last week, labeling the mailer an "attack ad."

"It is one thing to debate the issues and something else entirely to engage in personal attacks," said Stewart. "That a candidate for public office would resort to childish name-calling and making ludicrous claims is disappointing. This is exactly the kind of gutter politics that is holding Manchester back and which leads good people to avoid public service. We do not need this type of vitriol on the board."

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The school district has denied a Union Leader Right-to-Know request for a report detailing the findings of Atty. James O'Shaughnessy's investigation into the release of nonpublic personnel information by At-Large School Board member Nancy Tessier has been denied.

The report, discussed at a public meeting, found that Tessier violated policies of the board and sections of the city charter. O'Shaughnessy said the report was subject to attorney-client privilege, and thus required a vote of the board to be released. The board voted against releasing the letter and then voted to receive and file the item on the agenda.

In response to the Union Leader request, Atty. O'Shaughnessy wrote, "The legal opinion provided by the District's attorneys is a communication protected under the attorney-client privilege which falls within the exemption for 'confidential information' under RSA 91-A:5, IV. It is well established law in New Hampshire that legal advice is protected from disclosure unless the privilege is waived by the client. At its meeting on September 25, 2017, the Board of School Committee voted in public session not to waive the privilege with respect to the legal opinion letter, thereby preserving the confidentiality of that letter.

"With regard to the email that was the subject of your request, that email is an internal personnel record relating to several employees of the School District. Documents which pertain to internal personnel practices, such as the compensation, investigation, discipline, and performance of public employees are categorically exempt from disclosure per RSA 91-A:5, IV. Additionally, at that same meeting the Board of School Committee voted in public session to file the email in question with the nonpublic minutes that were sealed at the previous meeting. Therefore, the email in question is now under seal with the non-public minutes and only the Board of School Committee can unseal the minutes and authorize the disclosure of the document you requested."

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The Manchester Education Association (MEA) presented its first-ever Partner in Education Award last week to Asst. Supt. Dr. Christine Martin, during a reception at the Granite Lunch Box Cafe in the Brady Sullivan Tower.

"A true partner in education holds the students in the highest priority, and works alongside the teachers and administrators to uphold quality education, while creating a presence among the community stakeholders," said MEA President Sue Hannan.

According to Hannan, Martin was an "instant and unanimous vote" by the union's Executive Board to receive the award.

"Dr. Martin is that rare gem who attended school in the Manchester School District, and followed her calling to succeed at every level of educator in the district where she learned to love school," said Hannan. "We applaud her determination and her success in accomplishing her goals, and we know that Manchester is a great school district because of her."

"I am the person I am today because of the teachers in my life," said Martin. "Don't think you don't have impact on the students that you work with every day. I promise never to let you down."

Among those attending the reception were former superintendent of schools Dr. Debra Livingston - who is suing the school district for $590.50 after the school officials and Supt. of Schools Dr. Bolgen Vargas wouldn't pay her for 5.5 hours of work on an arbitration case after she left the district in 2016 - and former Asst. Supt. of Schools Dr. David Ryan, now co-superintendent for SAU 53.

Paul Feely is the City Hall reporter for the Union Leader and Sunday News. Reach him at

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