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The Colonial Theatre in Laconia: a Brownfields success story

Date: September 02, 2021

The NHDES Brownfields Program celebrated a brownfields success story at the grand opening of the newly renovated Colonial Theatre in Laconia in late August 2021.

In August 2002, the theater closed after 87 years of operation. The building sat vacant and unused for over 10 years. In June 2015, the City of Laconia announced a partnership with the Belknap Economic Development Council (BEDC) to purchase, renovate and reopen the Colonial Theatre. The project was composed of three distinct mixed-use developments, which include reconstruction of the historic Colonial Theatre, and renovation of former apartment units into marketable, residential use, and four storefront commercial units. The total square footage of the property is approximately 51,000 square feetand it is located in Downtown Laconia.

The NHDES Brownfields Program was contacted during the early stages of this redevelopment project with a request to assist in identifying potential environmental issues associated with the property. The Brownfields Program was able to provide a grant for technical assistance which included:

  • The investigation of an abandoned-in-place underground storage tank.
  • Inventorying of asbestos-containing materials, lead-based paint, PCBs in building materials and electrical equipment, and universal waste.
  • Delineation of a PCB release from a transformer in the basement of the building.

This initial environmental work was an important component to evaluating risk associated with the redevelopment and safely remediating aging infrastructure without causing additional harm to the environment or users of the building. 

The restoration of the Colonial Theatre began in March, 2016 and much care was taken to return it to its original 1914 Venetian beauty. With 750 seats in an intimate and ornate room, the Colonial is poised to become a destination for national touring artists, and will be home to a nonprofit resident theater company as well as various civic events. The project is one of the largest historic preservation projects in state history, while its design, performance and technical capacity will make it one of the most advanced civic auditoriums in New Hampshire. The theater reopened in early 2021 and, despite the challenging times of COVID-19, the first summer season has hosted a variety of entertainers.

The Colonial Theatre Redevelopment Project was led by BEDC and the City of Laconia. The redevelopment is a key economic development initiative that will increase cultural arts opportunities and community development in the City. While the theater is the heart of the redevelopment, it also boasts an adjoining storefront including a craft beer lounge and retail space, which surround the main entrance. These spaces provide additional economic opportunity to downtown Laconia.