The Rex: From eyesore to showstopper

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Mayor Joyce Craig was on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at The Rex on Thursday. Photo/Pat Grossmith

MANCHESTER, NH —  The Rex Theatre is expected to open to the public on Oct. 31 but just who will be headlining the show is still a secret.

Everything hinges on the theatre obtaining a certificate of occupancy, a document David Rousseau,  director of sale and advertising for the Palace Theatre, said was expected to be issued Thursday, the same day of the official ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Officials say they cannot book an act until they have that document in hand.

Still, the theatre plans to host an invitation-only opening event on Oct. 30.

The $1.7 million project turned the dilapidated former nightclub into a 300-seat entertainment venue with a 14-foot tall marquee outside and a stage and acoustic ceiling within.  Seating consists of individual chairs that can be moved to allow for dancing.  The theatre is expected to feature concerts, plays and be rented for business meetings or weddings.

Mayor Joyce Craig said the project worked because of a partnership formed with the city, Peter Ramsey, president and CEO of the Palace Theatre Trust and the Manchester Development Corp. (MDC) that came up with a viable plan.  The MDC provided the $1.7 million loan while the Palace Theatre Trust oversaw the renovation and will oversee the operation.

Visitors get a first look at the Rex on Thursday following a ribbon cutting. Photo/Pat Grossmith

She said the renovation took a building that was an eyesore in the downtown for many, many years and transformed  into a place where “people can come and enjoy themselves and it will be a draw for our downtown and a benefit for our city.”

Roland Martin, president of Cornerstone Construction which did the renovations, said that it was a tight budget and, as in all renovations, there were some unseen conditions and larger ones posing structural problems.

One of the biggest problems was the roof.  Plans did not call for replacing it but when the plaster was removed from the ceiling, workers discovered that moisture underneath had rotted the deck

A new roof was installed along with the acoustic ceiling.

“We had a lot of good workers on this project and that helped us keep costs under control,” Martin said.

Originally, the building housed The Rex Theatre when it opened on May 30, 1940.  Over the years, it served a movie theater but in the mid-1980s it became home to a variety of nightclubs.

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.