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Nonprofit group, Ioka owner at odds over Exeter theater’s future

By Jason Schreiber
Union Leader Correspondent

July 23. 2013 9:32PM

EXETER — The Kensington man who bought the historic Ioka theater at auction nearly two years ago has dropped the price in hopes of selling it to a local theater group, but its members aren’t ready to bite.

A message on the marquee of the downtown landmark says Alan Lewis is offering to sell the building to the nonprofit Exeter Theater Company for $400,000 — $200,000 less than what was paid when it was purchased at a foreclosure auction in 2011.

But the theater group has issued a counterproposal.

“While we appreciate his reduction of the asking price to $400,000, our position remains true to the understanding we and the Exeter community had when we went into this partnership with the Lewis family — the IOKA Theater would be provided to the Exeter Theater Company at no cost,” Tony Callendrello, chairman of the theater company’s board of directors, said in a statement posted on the group’s website.

The group still hopes to save the 98-year-old theater, but failed to put down a $60,000 non-refundable deposit by the end of last March to meet a deadline imposed by Lewis through his company, Kensington Exeter LLC.

Lewis bought the cash-strapped theater and has been working with the theater group on a plan to renovate and reopen it. Lewis wanted to see it restored and operated as a community-run theater.

The theater company originally said it was looking to lease the theater from Lewis for $1 a year for 99 years.

When the two sides failed to negotiate a long-term lease, Lewis gave the theater group the option to buy the building for $600,000.

The group insists that the building is worth far less because of its condition and the amount that it would cost to restore the theater.

In its proposal submitted recently to Lewis, the group said it has provided “significant input regarding the efforts needed to historically preserve” the theater in the architectural and business plans submitted to the Lewis family last year.

“Those plans have been validated by financial, architectural, legal, artistic, and construction professionals donating thousands of hours of pro bono time to this effort. We estimate that these efforts have saved the Lewis Family thousands of dollars in feasibility studies,” the group said.

The theater company is willing to implement those plans, but wants to have “clear ownership” of the theater.

The group said it would put $100,000 in a maintenance reserve account to be used solely for the stabilization and repair of the theater and for the funding of ongoing expenses.

It would also use the remainder of the $200,000 it has raised to launch a fundraising campaign including hiring and paying for the services of an experienced, professional fundraising adviser.The group plans to return contributions from donors this summer unless “we have some reason to believe that there is some opportunity for the (Exeter Theater Company) to fulfill its mission of restoring and reopening the IOKA Theater,” Callendrello said in his statement.

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