Time running out for theater project

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CHARLEROI – Time is running out for a nonprofit to pull together and raise money to qualify for more than $400,000 in grants to restore an old vaudeville house in Charleroi, a project that has been stalled for two years.


The Mid-Mon Valley Cultural Trust needs to raise nearly $1 million to restore the Coyle Theater, some of it before December, or it will lose $179,000 from the 2008 local share of proceeds from The Meadows Racetrack and Casino in North Strabane Township, Washington County Commissioner Harlan Shober said.


Meanwhile, Shober said, the state Department of Community and Economic Development has set a May deadline for the trust to jumpstart the project or that grant will be pulled.


“They have to have a plan in place,” he said. “That needs a good team and leadership.”


The 1,000-seat Coyle was built in 1895 as a burlesque and vaudeville house by Robert Coyle, and it remained in that family until the 1980s. The Coyles sold out at a time when single-movie theaters were being squeezed out of business by competition from television and multiscreen mall theaters. The screen went dark in 1999 after its new owners were unable to turn a profit from the building at 331 McKean Ave.


The local slots grant for the Coyle was put on hold in 2010 because the administrator of the funds, the Washington County Redevelopment Authority, wanted a better plan on how the trust would sustain the theater and worried because restoration cost projections had skyrocketed.


Shober said he supports the project, and doesn’t want to see it fold.


“This could be a great step forward for Charleroi,” he said. “It’s the first step in trying to rebuild the downtown.”


It’s been proven, he said, in other communities that a restored movie theater leads to other improvements in such struggling communities as Charleroi, which was a wealthy retail center before the steel industry collapsed.


Shober chaired a Friday meeting on the Coyle attended by nearly 40 people concerned about the theater.


Nancy Ellis, Charleroi’s mayor and chairman of the trust, said board members and business owners who attended the meeting thought it was “a step in the right direction.”


“People feel it’s incumbent on them to step up,” Ellis said. “People want this to happen.”


Nikki Sheppick, who represented the Charleroi Area Historical Society at the meeting, said most of the efforts to save the theater have unfairly fallen to Ellis, and that Ellis cannot make it happen alone.


“If we don’t’ get this done, we all lose in various ways,” Sheppick said. “They will think long and hard before Charleroi ever gets (slots) money again. People need to get over themselves and put this project first.”


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