Park Theatre expected to bring culture and business to downtown Jaffrey

  • Top: Steve Jackson, CEO and managing director of the Park Theatre, takes a tour inside the space, which is expected to be finished over the winter for a grand opening by the summer of 2020. Above: Construction work continues. Staff photos by Ashley Saari

  • Steve Jackson, CEO and managing director of the Park Theatre, takes a tour inside the space, which is expected to be finished over the winter for a grand opening by the summer of 2020. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Steve Jackson, CEO and managing director of the Park Theatre, takes a tour inside the space, which is expected to be finished over the winter for a grand opening by the summer of 2020. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • Steve Jackson, CEO and managing director of the Park Theatre, takes a tour inside the space, which is expected to be finished over the winter for a grand opening by the summer of 2020. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

  • Steve Jackson, CEO and managing director of the Park Theatre, takes a tour inside the space, which is expected to be finished over the winter for a grand opening by the summer of 2020. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/7/2019 9:27:32 PM

The Park Theatre is in the midst of construction, but CEO Steve Jackson can already see what it will be in a few months – a cultural hub for the center of Jaffrey, with a stage that could be presenting a live performance, screening recent films, staging concerts or streaming recordings of the ballet, opera or theater.

And bringing hundreds of people a week into the Jaffrey downtown. 

“The beauty of a new arts venue, run well, is that they’re an economic engine,” Jackson said, in a recent interview at the construction office for the Park Theatre. “There is case after case of how a new theater or arts center became the foundation for economic development for an area.”

Jackson said the Park Theatre could become that foundation for Jaffrey.

The Park Theatre is a re-imagining of the old Park Theatre, in the same location, which was built in 1922. It operated as a movie and vaudeville house for 54 years, but eventually became a retail store until 2005, when it was purchased by the Park Theatre Corporation, with a dream of reviving the space as a new performing arts center which would present both live theater and performances and film, as well as becoming a venue for community and business gatherings. The old theater was torn down, and the new building is well on its way to re-filling the role the old theater once left behind. 

The theater will have two spaces for performances and films – a large venue downstairs, with 350 seats, and a smaller one upstairs with 120 seats. It will run year-round, with continuous programming, and Jackson said the theater expects at least 100 guests per day. Many of them will be coming from outside of Jaffrey.

Business owners in the area see that kind of extra traffic as a potential boon.

Ruth Graff, owner of the Benjamin Prescott Inn in Jaffrey, said she already pulls some of her clientele from cultural attractions in the area, with guests staying overnight after attending a show at the Peterborough Players, or a concert put on by the Jaffrey Civic Center. 

“I think it will be a tremendous draw for us,” Graff said. 

She’s particularly anticipating a regular draw in the area during the winter season, which isn’t a peak time for tourism in the region.

“Having that draw year-round is going to be great for us,” Graff said.

Deborah Thurber, founder and director of Project Shakespeare, a children’s theater company, said she’s excited to see the theater come to life both as an arts creator and as a resident. She said she anticipates an adjustment period, but thinks it will be an overall plus for the downtown.

“I think it’s going to be a big shock to the community, the way there’s a big shock whenever there’s something new, but then it’s going to elevate the town of Jaffrey,” Thurber said. “Bringing in this many people is bound to have an economic ripple.”

In fact, Americans for the Arts, in a 2015 study, found that audiences of arts and cultural organizations can be a significant part of the economy of an area where they attend an event. According to that study, residents of the town attending an event tend to spend an average of $18.12 on things besides their event ticket. Non-residents spend even more – an average of $31.64. The money is spent on meals, gas, souvenirs, overnight lodging as well as shopping in the area before or after the event.

With the number of attendees expected to attend the Jaffrey Park Theatre, Jackson said the expectation is that show attendees could bring in up to $500,000 additional dollars per year into the local economy. In a 2014 survey of Jaffrey businesses done by the Park Theatre, business owners said the additional traffic could result in the creation of as many as 29 new positions. 

“And that’s just downtown Jaffrey,” Jackson said. “That’s a lot of money for this town.”

Jackson said he’s already been able to see some impact through the operation of the River Street Theatre, an off-shoot of the Park Theatre Project. The River Street Theatre hasn’t been operating this year, while the space functions as a construction office for the Park Theatre, but prior to the start of construction, it served as a much smaller venue to show some of the classic films and digital streaming of performances. While the space was limited to about 30 seats, Jackson said some of those events still proved to be a draw – about 5 percent of visitors came from Boston – and there were also multiple audience members for Worcester or other Massachusetts towns. 

“The River Street Theatre was a lab experiment for what the Park Theatre could be,” Jackson said. “People came from all over.”

The exterior of the theater is expected to be completed by November, and the interior will be completed over the course of the winter, Jackson said. While the theater doesn’t yet have a set opening date, Jackson said by mid-spring, it will have its debut. 

This winter, the theater is also making its last fundraising push. The theater is still several hundred thousand from its final goal. To complete the project, it is selling seat dedications, for $1,000 each, and larger donors can be honored with a star set into the floor of the lobby in a style mimicking the Hollywood Walk of Fame. 

For more information about the Park Theatre, visit https://theparktheatre.org.

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT. 


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