Coyle Theater project loses slots money

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The state has pulled the $179,951 balance of a 2008 slots grant for restorations to an old Charleroi movie theater because the group overseeing the project missed the deadline to show it has raised enough money to see the work through.


The Mid Mon Valley Cultural Trust was notified of the decision in a Jan. 7 letter from the Redevelopment Authority of the County of Washington, which also stated the group had failed to demonstrate the Coyle Theater project is feasible and sustainable.


The trust originally faced an April 9 deadline that was extended through Dec. 31 to accomplish those goals in order to receive the money approved in the first round of grants made possible from the local share of the take at The Meadows Racetrack & Casino in North Strabane Township. The trust is also facing the loss of another $250,000 grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development unless those same goals are accomplished by May.


“Since you were unable to demonstrate project feasibility and secure funding by the (December) deadline, it is necessary that the local share grant be reprogrammed,” William R. McGowen, the authority’s executive director, stated in the letter to the trust.


The curtain closed in 1999 on the theater at 331 McKean Ave. after new owners failed to turn a profit in the movie and stage business. The 1,000-seat theater with a balcony dates to the 1890s, when Robert Coyle opened it as a vaudeville and burlesque house before turning it into a single-screen movie theater.


The trust eventually took ownership of the theater and two neighboring buildings with plans to revamp them at a cost of nearly $2 million. The initial grant from the 2008 slots allocation was $250,000. That money since has been drawn down to $179,951.


The unspent money was not rolled back into the current year’s slots allocations, and some of it could be spent on scaled-back work on the Coyle if the trust makes an application and it is approved by the Washington County commissioners and DCED, said Commissioner Harlan G. Shober Jr., who has been working with the trust’s director, Charleroi Mayor Nancy Ellis, on resolving the problem.


“I would love to see the Coyle Theater up and running,” Shober said Tuesday. “Nancy and her team have put their heart and soul into this, but they need to come up with a good financing plan.” Ellis did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.


Shober said Charleroi Borough has suggested some projects that might qualify for the remaining money, including conducting its own feasibility study on the Coyle or remodeling the third floor of the borough building.


The money also could be earmarked for another community, he said.


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