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November 20. 2013 9:30AM

Exeter theater group suspends campaign to save Ioka

EXETER — The Exeter Theater Company has suspended its efforts to save Exeter’s historic Ioka theater and is now making plans to return money donated to its campaign.

In an open letter to the community and its donors, Tony Callendrello, chairman of the theater group’s board of directors, announced that the plan to purchase, restore and reopen the Ioka was being put on hold.

“After much consideration and after exploring numerous options, we have made the difficult decision to suspend our efforts to acquire the Ioka and return your donations,” he wrote.

The nonprofit theater company hoped to purchase the 98-year-old Ioka from owner Alan Lewis, but fearing it wouldn’t meet its financial goals, later asked Lewis to gift the theater to the group in an effort to resurrect the landmark after its closure in 2008.

Lewis, a Kensington resident known for his philanthropy, purchased the Ioka at auction in 2011 in the hope that it would be reopened as a community-run theater. His most recent offer was to sell the theater to the group for $400,000, but he said the next owner would have to invest at least $4 million to renovate the building.

“A lot of factors conspired against us, but in the end the economic climate and timing wasn’t right. We had many productive conversations with major donors and potential partners in this venture. All of them expressed their sincere desire to see the Ioka returned to life, but various obstacles and circumstances prevented them from providing financial backing,” Callendrello wrote in his letter.

The group is now in the process of returning the financial contributions made by donors who supported the campaign, which had raised more than $150,000.

In the letter to donors, Callendrello wrote, “There were moments when we could have risked your money on agreements with a low likelihood of success. We made the often-difficult decision to hold your donations securely, wanting to commit your money only on a fair and sustainable option. We tasked ourselves to be careful and reliable stewards of your money, and I feel we’ve succeeded in that.”

Donations are expected to be returned by the end of the year, Callendrello said.

jschreiber@newstote.com


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