Downtown: Phenix Hall owner looks to revive building

  • The inside of Phenix Hall as seen on Tuesday, April 19, 2016. ELIZABETH FRANTZ—Monitor file

  • The new Phenix Hall as shown in August 1899. —Monitor file

Monitor staff
Published: 7/29/2018 11:27:01 PM

Looks like Concord residents and visitors will have two new downtown music halls to choose between next winter.

While the Capitol Center for the Arts and Steve Duprey have been pretty public about their plans to revive the old Concord Theatre, just down the street, another developer is gearing up to create an intimate music scene.

You might be familiar with Phenix Hall because of The Works Bakery, a tenant that attracts coffee and bagel fans across the city, and the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s space. But the upstairs has a history of bringing people together, too – a history that owner Mark Ciborowski wants to bring back.

“Phenix Hall was the gathering spot of the community,” from about 1855, when the structure was built, to 1927, he said. Its main venue – where Abraham Lincoln is said to have spoken – sustained a “tremendous” fire in 1893, but a new stage that still stands has seen Teddy Roosevelt’s famous bully pulpit.

Maybe next winter, when the Granite State finds itself inundated with presidential candidates, they’ll be campaigning on the same stage, Ciborowski said.

Plans are still tentative, but the Concord developer – who owns a medley of buildings – said he’s looking to revive the theater as a music/function hall venue. He said he sees it as a place where people can hold weddings and private parties; and maybe, on the weekends, as a space for concerts and theater.

Ciborowski estimated it would cost him roughly $5 million to renovate and add a full kitchen, a new elevator, two new staircases and an addition in the alleyway between the Works and CVS Pharmacy.

But he’s enthused about the job.

“I consider it a community project,” he said. “I’m motivated by doing something phenomenal for the downtown. ... (The building is) a tremendous asset.”

Ciborowski said he’s had his eye on renovating Phenix Hall for some time. But he held off, saying Thursday that he wanted to renovate the former site of the Phenix Hotel – where CVS now resides – once CVS’s lease is up. Then Concord Steam closed, and the developer said he was tied up in the conversion.

Now, he’s ready to embark on the fundraising and the city phase. Ciborowski said he is hoping to appear before the Architectural Design Review Committee and the Planning Board by September. He plans to ask the Concord City Council for some tax relief under RSA 79-E, but was weighing the costs of applying for historic tax credits.

“Only things within the existing four walls qualify for those credits,” he said. More than half his costs will be the new items, he said.

As for whether he’s worried about competing with the Concord Theatre, Ciborowski wasn’t fazed.

“I think there will be some competition, but we’ll each be doing things differently,” he said. “In the long run, I believe more is better for the city. It’ll be a little tougher for both of us.”

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)

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