Downtown theater concept includes purchase of building

Talks start on buying Main Street space for performing arts

NASHUA – The city is now in talks with the owner of the former Alec’s Shoes building on Main Street, which has been identified as a prime location for a downtown performing arts and events center.

Nashua’s economic development director, Tim Cummings, along with consultants Duncan Webb and Scott Aquilina, recently unveiled the results of a study into the viability of a downtown theater that identified the Main Street building as an ideal location for a performance arts space.

Cummings, whose department is overseeing the performance arts space effort, refused to answer questions on the record about the taxpayer-funded concept. The city has so far paid Webb Management Services, Duncan Webb’s firm, close to $50,000 for the first two phases of a three-phase study.

Staff in Mayor Jim Donchess’ office said this week that there are active talks between the city and the owner of the property on a possible purchase, though that is still several steps away. There is no known sales prices as of yet.

Under the plans presented by Cummings to the Board of Aldermen this week, the city would buy the building and pay to renovate it, using a maximum $15.5 million bond. The property has an assessed value of just under $2 million.

Under the plan, the 30,000-square-foot space would provide room for the new theater, support facilities, lobby and event space, as well as some retail space. It would serve as an attraction downtown, used for meetings and events, and not just artistic performances.

The funding for the space would mostly come from operating revenue, but still requires heavy participation of private donors. The projected budget for the performance arts center requires 20 to 25 percent of the more than $1 million annual budget to come from donations, grants and a yet-to-be created endowment of at least $4 million.

The cost to taxpayers for the purchase and renovation of the building is estimated to be about $1 million a year for the bonding. That funding would count against the city’s restrictive spending cap.

No city financing plan has yet been prepared for aldermen, though it will likely be made contingent on the ability of private donors to contribute to the effort.