Publisher's Note: Saving the Ioka
By Jeff Rapsis
You have about two weeks to help save one of southern New Hampshire’s cultural treasures from being lost forever.
The cultural treasure is Exeter’s Ioka Theatre. Built in 1915, it survived as a single-screen movie theater for nearly a century. Anchoring the town’s downtown area, the Ioka showed films of all types. Over the years, it also functioned as a club, a music venue and a community magnet.
That is, until this past December. That’s when current owner Roger Detzler, faced with the huge cost of installing a modern fire suppression system, had no choice but to shut the theater down. The marquee went dark on Christmas Eve. Since then, the Ioka has lain in limbo. Detzler, who did his best to keep the place going for the past decade, hoped to sell it to someone — a community group, a non-profit, anyone — who could continue to keep the place open as a theater.
But winter turned to spring, and in a bleak economy, no one stepped forward. So Detzler went ahead with plans to market the property to buyers for any purpose — perhaps even as a parking lot. Equipment began to be removed from the Ioka to prep it for sale.
Faced with the theater’s imminent demise, a community effort to preserve and reopen the Ioka has finally emerged. It’s led by Marc Michael Murai, a local video producer and arts supporter who last week signed a preliminary intent to purchase the property, which he hopes to turn into a community cultural center. Based on that agreement, the theater remains intact. All demolition of the interior has ceased — for now.
Murai has until Thursday, May 6, to raise a good-faith deposit of $10,000, which he says will buy enough time to develop a business plan and proceed with saving the theater. Is the effort worth supporting? Visit www.savetheioka.com, a Web site Murai recently set up to coordinate efforts and spread the word. Can it succeed? I hope so, for several reasons.
Restored and brought up to code, theaters such as the Ioka can function as invaluable assets to a community and region. They mean economic activity today, in the form of bringing people to town, and also in the long run, in terms of being a quality-of-life asset that makes a community unique and attractive to future entrepreneurs and businesses looking to grow or relocate.
Need proof? Look at Manchester’s Palace Theatre or Concord’s Capitol Center for the Arts. Both were big theaters left for dead at one point, but were restored by community leaders who saw the potential long-term value they offered. Today, both are major players in each city’s cultural scene.
Contrast that with, say, Nashua, where no one bothered to save or restore any of the city’s downtown theaters. Though the city has many good qualities, it’s worse off for not having a large venue to serve as a focal point for the city’s arts scene.
Exeter is close enough to the Merrimack Valley for the Ioka to count as an important cultural asset. So check out www.savetheioka.com, and consider helping out before the property becomes yet another parking lot.