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Lebanon Opera House planning to spruce up lobby area

  • Dan Merlo, production manager for the Lebanon Opera House, puts up a "Show Today" flag on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017, in front of Lebanon City Hall in Lebanon, N.H. Merlo said that the show "La belle Hélène" will be playing on Aug. 1, 3, 5 and 9. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Abraham Xum, of Optimum Building Systems Inc., works on drywall at the Lebanon Opera House on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020, in Lebanon, N.H. During the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, the performing arts venue is becoming more energy efficient with additional insulation in the walls. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/5/2021 9:56:41 PM
Modified: 5/6/2021 3:18:23 PM

LEBANON — The Lebanon Opera House hopes to expand its presence on the City Hall floor where its lobby and box office are located, with a renovation aimed at making the space more welcoming.

The renovation, loosely scheduled for June 2022, would include the addition of a new concession area, signage and other cosmetic improvements designed to draw people to the theater, according to Joe Clifford, the opera house’s executive director.

“If you think about the number of doors you have to go through to get into the actual theater, it’s quite a few,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday. “You have to peel away these layers like an onion. I want to try to make an impact as soon as you approach City Hall, and at each step, you’re going through a set of doors that brings you closer to this creative and transformative experience.”

Clifford is in talks with Lebanon City Manager Shaun Mulholland to amend the opera house’s lease to allow for changes at the city-owned building.

If approved by the City Council, construction would see the opera house box office move across the lobby of what is technically the third floor of the building to the newly renovated home of Lebanon’s cyber services department, Mulholland told the council last month.

The opera house would then build a concession area where the box office is now, he said.

“In my view, that makes good economic sense because we’re enhancing the arts, which is one of our top priorities, and the value of that particular location,” Mulholland said in a video recording of the meeting.

Lebanon reopened City Hall to the public in November after completing a $6.7 million renovation of the 1923 building, resulting in upgraded offices, meeting spaces and a new lobby on the second floor, which is where residents go to make transactions and interact with the city clerk and manager’s offices.

However, construction also saw the Recreation, Arts and Parks employees move into the nearby River Valley Community College building on the Lebanon Mall to make room on the third floor for the cyber services office.

Under the opera house’s plans, Lebanon’s cyber services — formerly the information technology department — also would have to find leased space outside of City Hall, Mulholland said.

To make up for that expense, the city hopes to split revenue with the opera house from drinks and snacks.

“I don’t want to give up real estate but in this sense, it does make sense,” Mulholland said. “It takes money to make money.”

City councilors also appeared amenable to the idea.

“It would be more than they make now, but it would give us a piece of the pie as well, or a piece of the beer bottles,” Mayor Tim McNamara said at the time.

The revenue-sharing plan is currently before Lebanon’s attorneys and will require the approval of city councilors, Mulholland said Wednesday.

Currently, the Lebanon Opera House forgoes paying rent under its current lease, signed in 1998, “because of the direct public benefit” it provides. The nonprofit does pay for electricity inside the main theater, under a 2016 amendment to its lease.

Clifford said the 2022 renovation goal gives the opera house time to fundraise and find contractors. Summer also is traditionally its slowest time of year. “I do hate the sound of reopening and then closing again but the challenge is finding an 11- or 12-week period where you could do the work,” he said.

Construction also would ensure the Lebanon Opera House is ready for its 100th anniversary in 2024, Clifford added. For that milestone, he said, there’s talk of changing up the seating inside the 758-seat theater and improving the lighting systems. “I want the arts beacon to shine really brightly in Lebanon and City Hall’s such a great place to do that,” Clifford said.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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