2019-05-01

Lunenburg Folk Harbour Society buys Lunenburg Opera House

by Charles Mandel

  • <p>File photo.</p><p>The Lunenburg Opera House.</p>

The Lunenburg Folk Harbour Society has bought the Lunenburg Opera House. The sale was confirmed April 25 in a news release.

The opera house's previous owners, Farley and Courtney Blackman, offered the property at a small fraction of the restoration costs to the Folk Harbour Society, according to the release.

The Fordi Family Foundation, described as a private grant-making foundation supporting the arts, helped the society purchase the venue with "a generous gift."

Blackman said that he and his wife will not recover "more than $1-million in after tax dollars." The opera house at 290 Lincoln Street had originally been listed in June 2017 for $2.25 million.

A some time entrepreneur and property owner in Lunenburg, Blackman with his wife also operated an art gallery, owned a number of houses, and had hoped to open a cidery. But in the fall of 2017, he left Lunenburg for a job in Australia, after expressing frustration over run-ins with the town over development.

"My goal was to restore and protect the Lunenburg Opera House and to ultimately see it operated as a venue for the arts," Blackman said in the release, adding that he and Courtney proudly consider the sale of the opera house to the folk festival as their "contribution to the vibrancy of Lunenburg, the very necessary promotion of the arts and the protection of heritage buildings and culture."

Bob Fordi of the Fordi Family Foundation praised Blackman as a businessman, entrepreneur and historic and environmental preservationist who made "made significant investments and provided invaluable stewardship during the building's rehabilitation and initial operation"

Fordi said that Blackman's work resulted in a renovated and protected structure that would benefit the building's activities for many years into the future."

Fordi also cited Andrew Kimball, a Bridgewater-based attorney, whom he said was instrumental in facilitating the transaction and securing the enabling grant.

Blackman also secured revenue-generating events for 2019 that will benefit the new owners, according to the release.

In early April, LighhouseNOW first reported on the possible sale of the venue to the folk festival. At that time the festival's board of directors called an extraordinary general meeting to discuss a proposed five-year plan for buying the building.

"We are able to consider this because of a donation from a private donor of a considerable amount," Harold Pearse, president of the society, told LighthouseNOW in early April.

At that time he declined to name the donor, but said it was a foundation connected to a family who are "long-time summer residents of Lunenburg County" and whom have had a longstanding interest and connection to Folk Harbour.

Pearse also declined to indicate the amount of the donation, but said it will cover "a significant proportion" of the opera house's purchase price, which had come down in price to $895,000.

According to Pearse, it's been the society's goal for sometime to establish a permanent venue for the folk festival "in an historically important building."

Blackman described his involvement with the opera house as 13 years of stewardship, including a personally funded, multi-million-dollar restoration.

The building re-opened in 2016 with Gordon Lightfoot taking the stage.

Under Blackman's leadership, the building also became home to the Lunenburg Doc Fest film festival; Spirited Away craft spirits festival; and numerous static art exhibitions featuring sculptors and painters.

The decade-plus-long restoration included a complete exterior overhaul with an all-new roof, cedar siding, red-cedar trim and Marvin windows and doors. For the first time in history the Lunenburg Opera House is fully-insulated and is able to operate year-round.

Inside, the theatre and the integral mezzanine underwent an extensive restoration: An all-new stage was constructed and a sound desk built, while the entire building was brought up to code enabling the largest audiences on the South Shore to comfortably enjoy the arts.

All walls were replaced and the floors were brought back to life, looking like they did originally when the first show opened in 1909 and the original mural was preserved.

Other interior improvements include flexible seating for both the main floor and the mezzanine, new sound and lighting systems, the installation of acoustic sound panels and a new accessible washroom.

Infrastructure improvements include new internal support structures; state-of-the-art, all-season HVAC and new three-phase power that enables the most-demanding acts to perform on the theatre's stage, ready for music, theatre, film and events.

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