MANCHESTER, NH — The $1.7 million transformation of a blighted nightclub into a 300-seat entertainment venue took a step forward Thursday with the installation of a 14-foot plus marquee declaring the venue The Rex.
Palace Theatre Chief Financial Officer Paul Ramsey said the 23 Amherst St. project is coming in on time and on budget with it expected to open in October. The new lighted marquee was made and installed by First Sign.
He declined to say what the opening act would be but said he’s received inquiries from all over New England. He said a certificate of occupancy must first be obtained from the city before an act could be booked.
Manchester Development Corp. (MDC) provided the funding for the project while the Palace Theatre Trust (PTT) is overseeing the renovation and operation.
Ramsey said Cornerstone Construction and its president Roland Martin are the heroes of the project.
“He took a special interest in this project,” he said. “He put a lot of time and energy into it and put his best people on it and that really made the difference. They’re just phenomenal.”
One unexpected surprise during the renovation was the need to replace the roof, Ramsey said. When the old roof was finally removed, he said from inside you could look up and see the sky.
As a result, Ramsay said it was decided to add an acoustical roof deck to help with the overall sound quality inside the venue.
“We took advantage of the unexpected opportunity and made the best of it,” he said.
The building was called The Rex Theatre when it opened on May 30, 1940. Over the years, it was renamed King Cinema and then The Movies. The theatre closed in the mid-1980s and then became the home to various nightclubs, including the notorious Club Liquid.
The city shut down the last club after a fire and because of safety code violations.
The MDC bought the building in 2015 to specifically renovate it as a venue for live entertainment. It entered into a purchase and sale agreement with Liz Hitchcock and Gray Chynoweth, both formerly of Dyn but now of Minim.
The deal fell through because Chynoweth, according to news reports at the time, said the plan was no longer “economically viable.”
Chynoweth was on hand Thursday to see and video-record the installation of the marquee. He said he always believed the building should be renovated for an entertainment site.
The venue is also expected to be used for private events such as weddings and corporate meetings.