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Concord tour gives glimpse of upper-story uses, possible redevelopment

It’s been a venue for dance performances and horticultural fairs.

Two presidents – Abraham Lincoln in 1860, before he was elected, and Theodore Roosevelt in 1912 – have spoken there.

Boxers and wrestlers competed on its floor.

Now Phenix Hall sits mostly empty, used on occasion by At Om Yoga for classes but otherwise quiet due to code restrictions in the 1855 building. But if building owner Mark Ciborowski gets his way, that will change.

On a stop at Phenix Hall on yesterday’s Upstairs, Downtown tour, he told a group of visitors he is working with architects and a contractor to draw up plans to renovate the historic space.

“I’ve always thought this

would be an incredible blues hall, music hall,” Ciborowski said.

He told the crowd he envisions a space that could hold up to 500 people on that upper floor of Phenix Hall, and maybe a new building on the neighboring plot where CVS is currently located. Ciborowski also owns that property.

It’s a few years away, Ciborowski said, but he wants to make Phenix Hall a destination in Concord again.

“I think it will be a game- changing venue for downtown,” he said.

Ciborowski’s space was just one stop on yesterday’s tour hosted by Intown Concord. (The Monitor is one of the tour’s corporate sponsors.) Liza Poinier, operations manager at Intown Concord, said the annual event was open to 120 people – and it was sold out before the groups got moving on their five-stop jaunt through downtown’s upper stories.

“They loved being able to peek behind the curtain,” Poinier said.

Also on the tour was the penthouse level of the Capital Commons building at 11 S. Main St.; the Endicott Hotel at 1-5 S. Main St.;the Act One Creative office in the old Phenix Livery Stable at 18 Low Ave.; and Odd Fellows Hall at 18-24 Pleasant St.

“We have a mix of completely new properties like Capital Commons, historic renovations – that would be the Endicott Hotel – and some that haven’t been renovated, like Phenix Hall and the Odd Fellows building,” said Matt Walsh, the city’s director of redevelopment, downtown services and special projects.

During last year’s tour, the Endicott Hotel was still a work zone. This year, Mike Reed, director of real estate and asset management at CATCH Neighborhood Housing, walked through the only uninhabited apartment of its 24 units. The granite countertop and the slick silver fixtures are new, he said, but other features like the staircases are original to the 1892 building.

“What we tried to do in our whole process is, how do we marry this historic building with renovating it for people who want to live here? ” Reed said.

The office of Act One Creative, a marketing communications firm, also bore traces of its beginnings as the Phenix Livery Stable. Rich Woodfin, an Intown Concord board member from Charter Trust Company, pointed to where the stable used to house 51 stalls for horses. Upstairs, beams from the original storage room for grain are still holding up the office ceiling.

“We chose it because, look at it,” said Nancy Brownstein, president and CEO of Act One Creative, gesturing to the open office space.

“We’re a creative business,” she told the tour group, so a creative use of the old space just worked.

Odd Fellows Hall, also owned by Ciborowski, was a new stop on the tour this year. The late afternoon sunlight filtered through floor-to-ceiling windows in the largest upstairs room, where tape marked off a basketball court on the floor and the remnants of a construction project sat untouched. Walsh stood in the center of the room, near a partially assembled basketball hoop.

The building was supposed to house an athletic club, he said, but the company went out of business several years ago. Old exercise equipment still gathers dust in one room.

“I could see a very exquisite restaurant,” he said. Or perhaps high-end apartments, he suggested, or maybe a fancy office.

“The things that are just above you, and you don’t know it’s there,” Walsh said. “There’s phenomenal potential.”

(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or mdoyle@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)

The current edition is often referred to as the "New" Phenix Hall, since it replaced the "Old" Phenix Hall that burned in 1893. So, while Teddy Roosevelt spoke at the new hall, Honest Abe spoke at the old hall, which I believe was on the same spot, or very close to it. Otherwise, and I'd never thought of it before reading this excellent article, but it would make a GREAT Blues Hall! Have my doubts Concord could support such a specialty, but I'd selfishly love to see her give it the old Muddy Waters/Howlin' Wolf/John Lee Hooker try.

I have to think the name-change from “Downtown Concord” to “Intown Concord” is not just superficially boneheaded: It seemingly coincided with the organization’s abandonment of downtown merchants’ interest in better parking by going along with the boneheaded downtown project.

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