Instead of leasing the building to the theater group, as he first proposed, Lewis now wants to sell it to them. At this stage, that seems like a tall order, as the group has only raised $140,000.
"We submitted all the business plans after the membership drive (last spring) to the owner's staff and it was acknowledged they were received – floor plans, construction estimates and the works," said Carol Walker Aten, a consultant working with the Exeter Theater Company. "We actually didn't hear back till mid-August. At that point, the owner said he wasn't interested in owning the theater."
Initially, Lewis offered to give the theater group the theater if they could raise $3.5 million by the end of December, Walker Aten said, but that proved to be an unattainable goal. Especially since without a legal agreement, it was impossible to fundraise.
Ultimately, she said Lewis agreed to give the theater group an option to purchase the theater. The group was hoping for a six month window, but now has until March 31 to raise the remaining $460,000.
"We don't really have a choice," said Walker Aten, when asked if it's realistic to believe the group can raise that much money in just over three months' time. "The message to the community is this is kind of our last shot to acquire the theater and make it work."
If they can raise the money to buy the building, Walker Aten has no doubt the Ioka can be a viable enterprise.
"It's very doable," she said. "As a nonprofit, the theater can be incredibly successful."
The next step, Walker Aten said, is to kick off a new fundraising campaign. In addition to seeking donations from the public, that will also involve applying for grants and seeking tax credit funding.
"I think all of us wish we could have gotten a long-term lease and started the campaign from that spot," she said. "What this means is we're starting with the acquisition of the building. We still had a multi-million capital campaign to do; this just changes how it begins."
As for when the public might actually be able to watch a movie or a theater production in the Ioka again, Walker Aten said it's still too early to say.
"It's premature to talk about an opening date," she said. "The construction schedule will be fairly long, and we can't do any of it until we actually own the theater."