Column: Why I Signed Up to Run the Nashua Performing Arts Center

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By Pete Lally – Guest Columnist
The Nashua Telegraph

When we first heard about the potential Nashua Performing Arts Center, I was intrigued by the project because I have always felt that downtown Nashua had a great infrastructure in place for an arts and entertainment venue – an emerging arts district, abundant parking, restaurants and shops in close proximity making a great patron experience.

My team and I have been in the business of booking and managing some of New England’s premiere performing arts facilities since 2012, specializing in municipally own properties including the Lowell (MA)Memorial Auditorium, Cary Memorial Hall in Lexington, MA, the Plymouth (MA) Memorial Hall, and soon the Colonial Theater in Laconia NH. We are also the booking agent for a variety of other venues across New England. We take pride in providing unique solutions for each venue.

As experienced and selective operators we did a great deal of research and analysis about how we would add the Nashua Performing Arts Center to our overall operation to make sure we are able to run a first-class center with a busy calendar of events. Because we operate in multiple venues throughout New England, we can be more economically efficient than a stand-alone operation, while at the same time bringing more marketing, operations expertise, and programming resources to each of our venues.

My enthusiasm has grown since getting involved at the early stages of the project. My team and I have attended all the planning meetings for the performing arts center over the last two years. We were impressed that the Steering Committee had a strong vision that governed all their decisions – that the new center would be viable and sustainable, and that both patrons and performers would come away with an exciting experience and would want to return.

We were equally impressed by the team that the architects, ICON Architecture and OTJ Architecture, assembled to cover all aspects of the project including the theater, structural and civil engineering, theater technical design, A/V, and acoustic engineering. They have many years of experience in designing and building performing arts centers across the country.

In this industry it is an unusual to be asked for input in the early design stages of a new performing arts venue. We feel privileged that our input was sought on all aspects of the center – from the overall design of the building, number of seats, line of site, the stage and back of stage support areas, acoustics and audio support, box office size and location, concessions, loading and off-loading, even the number of patron rest rooms. Being involved in the discussions has been fantastic, and we feel a huge plus for the project.

Most of the facilities we manage were built in the first half of the 20th century, and so obviously we were not involved in any design decisions. This isn’t to say that they aren’t beautiful and functional. But nothing compares to a brand-new facility built from the ground up. It is extremely exciting to be involved with such a venue.

Having the Performing Arts Center on the “50-yard line” of downtown Nashua is ideal. The Center’s Main Street location offers a complete evening out, with access to ample nearby parking, restaurants, and retail, maximizing the potential for economic impact on the downtown. The new Center will also create jobs – we are committed to hiring much of our staff from the surrounding downtown residential areas – having support staff that can walk to work is a benefit for us as well.

The Webb study conducted by the City when contemplating the project indicated that financial viability and sustainability is dependent on a flexible design to the audience chamber and we strongly agree. The more flexible a venue is in both its seating arrangements and seating capacity, the more opportunities for performances and events it will have. The versatility of the design is extremely exciting and opens the doors to a lot of possible event types that cannot be accommodated in more traditional theatre-style venues.

We look forward to leveraging our network of booking contacts and bringing a wide variety of programming to the Center. Concerts of all types, comedy, off-Broadway theatre, family shows, as well as specialty shows such as reality TV stars and celebrity chefs will all be included on the calendar. We will welcome local and regional production companies, as well as recitals and competitions. Because of the flexibility of the seating, we can host theater in the round, intimate unamplified performances, cabaret style performances, open floor concerts up to 1,000, as well as event banquet seating up to 200.

We are also looking forward to supporting local events like adding an Anime film festival to the Nashua Public Library’s annual Comicon, hosting a city-wide cultural festival to celebrate Nashua’s diversity as a welcoming city, and working with Nashua Community Arts, the nonprofit associated with the Center on other programs to make the Center accessible to the community. We intend to become the venue of choice for non-profit, civic, and business events as well as family celebrations like wedding receptions. And we expect to collaborate with the arts community on the gallery at the center, as well as the school department on hosting possible arts classes for local students when the Center’s Artist and VIP lounge are not in use.

In addition to our participation with the Steering Committee we also joined the Nashua Chamber of Commerce and have had the opportunity to meet many business owners, non-profit professionals, and those involved with the arts and culture community. We are looking forward to further developing those relationships as we get closer to the opening.

While COVID has had a devastating impact on the live entertainment industry, Spectacle Management has been fortunate to be coming off three years of extremely high growth with a strong balance sheet due to our conservative fiscal policies. Although we have lost bookings there have been some opportunities to continue to present live entertainment and I believe that those opportunities will continue to grow as time goes on. I believe that 2021 will be a year that yields gradual increase in live entertainment programming opportunities and anticipate that by 2022 live entertainment and sports will once again be safely welcoming capacity crowds into venues. I also anticipate that at that time the industry will see a strong rebound due to pent-up performer and audience demand.

Meanwhile, we have been able to “catch up” on many of the internal improvements we were not able to accomplish during our intense growth period – upgraded software, a new website, and personnel training programs. We are also rescheduling events and preparing post-COVID best practices for operating our facilities in 2022 and beyond.

The timing is right for the Nashua Performing Arts Center, with an anticipated opening in 2022. Our current projection is drawing 70,000 audience participation by year three of operations.

Spectacle Management manages and is affiliated with many venues owned by cities and towns. We recognize that these venues are owned by the residents, and not us. And that while we are a for-profit organization, there is a very important balance to be achieved in operating a municipally-owned venue in terms of the incorporation of non-profit, educational and civic events, as well as a concentrated effort on maximizing the economic impact of the venue on the surrounding community. The Nashua Performing Arts Center will be built with City funds and donations, not by Spectacle Management, and that is something we appreciate, respect, and are mindful of in our operation.

We are confident that the Nashua Performing Arts Center is designed to fulfill its vision that is the key to success. I know performers are going to love being in a brand new, state-of-the-art venue in a city that they have likely never performed in before. They will appreciate the amenities of easy loading in and out, generous dressing rooms, an Artist Lounge and an operations staff committed to making sure they will want to return.

And visitors will not only be able to enjoy a great performance on stage, a first-class event venue, and an active art gallery, but also be able to enjoy the venue’s hospitality amenities such as the VIP lounge and unique roof deck, concessions on every floor, not to mention a generous number of rest rooms. Add to that convenient, ample parking and all that downtown Nashua’s restaurants and retail have to offer and you can see why we are exciting to be in for the long run.

Pete Lally has been in the entertainment business since 1996 and is adjunct professor of music business at the University of Lowell. He holds a BA in music business and a MA in Communications and Public Relations from the University of Miami. His company is named after Spectacle Island in Boston harbor where he likes to sail.