Before guests attend the Christine Hurley & Friends Comedy Night at the Lakeport Opera House on Saturday night, you can be sure that some will enjoy a drink or dinner at Fratello’s or O Steaks & Seafood. Maybe others stopped by Chaos & Kindness to see it all, or grabbed a cup of coffee at Aroma Joe’s to cheer them up for the performance.
The same thing will happen this fall and winter in Laconia at the Colonial Theater. People will come to a performance of Our Town or A Christmas Carol, and they will get a hot drink at Wayfarer Coffee Roasters, a beer at Defiant Records & Craft Beer, or a bite to eat at Koung Sushi Mart.
This is how a complex and diverse entertainment industry works for a community. It doesn’t just make you happy for a few hours. It is boosting economies in the cities and towns as they strive to develop venues and create more opportunities for tourism.
This engine is now running hot in the lake region.
For the first time in 60 years, the renovated Lakeport Opera House welcomed more than 5,000 guests to 30 shows this summer, thanks to developer Scott Everett. Chaos & Kindness welcomed visitors to its flagship store in Laconia, offered a cash prize of $ 10,000 on a New Hampshire scavenger hunt, and this year opened the CAKE Theater in Veterans Square. And Spectacle Management opened the doors to the renovated Colonial Theater Laconia, and a slew of shows are planned for the spring.
These opportunities, combined with new restaurants and real estate, add to the core of what has been around for many decades at Weirs Beach, The Belknap Mill, and Winnipesaukee Playhouse, to name a few.
“Laconia is set to become one of the premier entertainment destinations in New Hampshire,” said Brandon Caron, director of strategy and business development for Spectacle Management, which co-manages the Colonial with the City of Laconia.
Tim-James Everett, director of the Opera House and brother of owner / developer Scott Everett of Paugus Properties, said, “All of this is mutually nurturing, dynamic, and trusting for other companies to invest in Laconia and to inspire consumers to be here, which of course leads to the economic development of the city.
“As they say,” he adds, “the tides raise all boats.”
This tide began to lift the area’s boats in 1914 when James “Jim” Irwin hopped off a train at Weirs Beach with a trumpet case and a lot of courage. By 1925, Irwin had turned a band gig into the possession of Winnipesaukee Gardens, a popular dance venue on Weirs Beach in the big band era.
Irwin is credited with making The Weirs a vacation spot; With Irwin Marine, the marina he founded, which has grown into a multi-location, family-owned giant, he helped introduce Laconia to boat visitors.
Today, many other courageous developers are building on what Irwin began decades ago with innovative ideas, generous investments – and in some cases a long association with the region.
The Everetts grew up in Gilford, and Justin Spencer of downtown Lakeport rock group Recycled Percussion and founder of Chaos & Kindness was born at Laconia Hospital, now known as Concord Hospital-Laconia.
Follow the example of other regions
Laconia wasn’t the first in the region’s redevelopment game.
Meredith’s rebirth was spearheaded by Rusty McLear, a serial entrepreneur who moved to the area in 1971 and started his huge business by offering to switch to any job at a new hotel to learn the business.
In 2019, after spending 36 years building, owning and operating hotels, restaurants and businesses that changed the face of Meredith, McClear sold Hampshire Hospitality Holdings to TPG Hotels & Resorts in Rhode Island. The sale comprised properties that were major regional draws including Church Landing, Inn at Mill Falls, Bay Point at Mill Falls, Chase House, and Mill Falls Marketplace, and had a total value of approximately $ 25 million.
At Concord, Steve Duprey, the owner of the Duprey Companies, which offers restaurant development and management, was a mover and a doer. “I started agitating in 1985 that Concord had to update Main Street,” says Duprey.
When the Capitol Center for the Arts was rejuvenated in the early 1990s, Duprey pleaded for Congressional funding. He then built an office building across the street from the venue to house the League of NH Craftsmen, the New Hampshire Furniture Masters, the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce, and the Concord Hospital administrative offices.
After developing the Smile and Love Your Neighbor buildings, which is where Gibson’s Bookstore is located, Duprey went deeply into grants and led Concord through a large project to make downtown more welcoming to visitors.
Trees were planted. Historical posters were put up. Lighting has been improved. Colorful flags and banners were blowing, and Duprey said while biased he thinks the project has produced fabulous results.
“People love our inner city. It has become the main meeting place in Concord, ”he said. “A lot of renovation work was still carried out. Market price housing in the city center has been added, and there will be more to come. There is a lot going on. More people. More economic activity, and we just want to build on that. “
Building on that in Laconia
Brandon Caron of Spectacle Management said he has seen tangible economic growth and a big boost in confidence in the future of the region’s development opportunities since the Colonial restoration was announced.
He pointed to recent residential real estate and new small business investments, including Defiant Records & Craft Beer on Colonial Block, Trillium Farm to Table, Koung Sushi Mart, and Piedmont Print & Frame. Wayfarer Roasters has also expanded, and companies like Fresh Takes Deli have moved to Laconia.
“Some local businesses and craftsmen were also involved in the renovation,” said Caron. “As the colonial event grows and the downtown business district expands, the economy and liveliness of Laconia will grow too.
“The diverse calendar of events will re-introduce residents to the bustling downtown business district and attract tourists across the region,” he added, noting that Spectacle is also creating jobs and hiring local residents.
As Spectacle Management and the Everetts feel the relief of the first few seasons that have exceeded their expectations, they are also in the process of planning the next steps.
After leveling ramshackle storefronts on Elm Street this spring, Scott Everett is building five to ten storefronts on the first floor in the same area, with about a dozen condos or apartments above it. Because of all the moving parts in the construction industry and the national supply chain, he cannot yet commit to an opening date, “but construction is active and we are pushing as hard as possible,” he says.
He is also not at liberty to announce the names of the stores that will house the new development house. “They will be high quality, diverse, and generate a lot of foot traffic and general activity in Lakeport,” said Everett.
Over the winter, Everett expects to announce plans for a building adjacent to the Elm Street Project. “The momentum is moving, and like a snowball going down a hill, it just picks up speed from here,” he says.
Even in winter, when the Opera House is closed, the Everetts will upgrade the venue as they prepare for the line-up to start for Spring and Summer 2022.
Meredith’s McLear said the restoration works in Laconia and Lakeport were life changing for the community. “This is a really big leap forward for their future,” he said, noting that there are projects he can’t talk about yet that have the potential to be equally meaningful.
Concord’s Duprey said he thinks leaders and developers in Laconia are on the right track.
“It’s a good start. It’s a consistent effort, ”he says. “To this day, many churches will be running a project and pulling back and saying, ‘We’re done.’ You can not. You have to keep updating and updating. “
Duprey adds that not every idea or innovation will work. “There will be some ideas that fail. And some naysayers. I keep telling people, ‘This is not the New Hampshire way.’ We keep trying things and if it doesn’t work we try something else. It takes perseverance and conversation. It made a huge difference in Concord – it’s the quality of life that attracts people to live in Concord. We still have a lot of work to do, but we will make it, and Laconia can do it too. “