Developer Mark Ciborowski remains confident that Concord will soon see historic renovation 


Monitor columnist

Published: 01-27-2023 5:58 PM

Someday this year, Mark Ciborowski will hire someone to move a pair of long, heavy oak bars from Pennsylvania to his proposed masterpiece in downtown Concord.

One bar, 36 feet long, will line the back area of Ciborowski’s proposed entertainment center inside Phenix Hall. The other bar, 44 feet long, will stand out in front.

That’s a heavy load to carry, and it sort of explains the scenario where Ciborowski finds himself. No, he won’t be driving these giants hundreds of miles. He is, however, responsible for the delivery, plus everything else that goes into reshaping a central part of the city.

Ciborowski envisions a multi-purpose complex centered around the abandoned Phenix Hall, which once hosted presidents, cocktail parties, boxing and theater, starting in the 19th century.

This vision has been years in the making, and obstacles, like at any major development, were expected. The thing called COVID, though, was not.

“We were getting close to start renovating the Phenix and COVID shut it all down,” Ciborowski said. “Since then, construction costs have escalated dramatically.”

So far, plans to revitalize the theater haven’t materialized, leaving behind a really cool-looking building with a great story to tell, but no heartbeat on its upper floors. Street-level tenants include the popular Works Cafe and the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen.

“For years we’ve been working on it, working on it, and things have come together recently,” Ciborowski said. “In a couple of months, it should start to show what we’re doing. We should wrap up negotiations with the city in a few months, which is vital.”

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Ciborowski, always affable, always accountable, said he’s worried that the public might grow leery about a project that sounds too good to be true. Too much hubbub before construction begins, he fears, might cause some eye-rolling in the public.

“People say I’m nuts,” Ciborowski said. “But my whole life, I’m trying to change the face of Concord. I’m trying to beautify Concord forever.”

Phenix Hall still holds its historic stage and seating. Ciborowski’s grandfather installed an elevator and staircase in 1973 to make it more accessible, but the landmark eventually faded and was abandoned.

Too bad. The Phenix Hall once dominated the landscape, bumping Concord up a notch in the arena of artsy and cultured fun.

Built in 1855, the Phenix was versatile, offering a banquet room, a dance hall and a conference area. It hosted wrestling and boxing matches and concerts. In fact, it became the “most important cultural center of the arts,” Ciborowski wrote online.

It hosted President Abraham Lincoln in 1860. It hosted Shakespearean actor Edwin Wilkes Booth, the elder brother of Lincoln-assassin John Wilkes Booth. And it hosted Teddy Roosevelt, president from 1901-’09, in 1912.

The Ciborowski family bought the Phenix Hall in the 1960s after a major fire in 1956 destroyed the Phenix Hotel’s top floors, as well as the covered walkway connecting the two.

These days, Ciborowski gets excited about the political possibilities, as long as the Granite State holds on to its First-in-the-Nation Primary.

“It would be a center with a dream of having a presidential primary debate,” Ciborowski said. “What candidate would not want to speak from the spot where Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt spoke from.”

The recent closing of CVS added a twist. Now, Ciborowski sees a complex featuring entertainment, food, high-end apartments and offices. The Hall, complete with a stage and a semicircular seating pattern, has already been used as event space.

“It’s dusty,” Ciborowski said. “It needs work and we are done cleaning and we made it presentable for events up there. People do occasionally rent for functions and private parties, weddings.”

The Phenix Hotel, separate from the Phenix Hall, was located where the closed CVS Pharmacy sits, and the Hall/Hotel combo was a big hit in the day.

Ciborowski sees something historic here, maybe Portsmouth-like, after the heavy equipment rolls out of town. He sees something that would be transformational for the city.

He sees a new Phenix Hall, with a seating capacity of about 1,500. He sees the recently-closed CVS Pharmacy, once part of the Phenix Hotel, returning with retail shops on the ground, a floor for offices and several floors featuring high-end apartments.

Meanwhile, Ciborowski hopes to drop from the spotlight. At least until documents are signed and construction begins.

That’s hard for him to escape. He’s the face of this renovation, the individual who suggested it, the man with the vision.

He does, however, delegate some responsibility.

“The bars are so heavy and there’s no place to put the damn things before we start,” Ciborowski said. “I have to transport them here and we’ll need a tractor-trailer. No, I won’t be driving.”