Still hope for the Roxian Theatre, officials say

| Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Still $6 million from their goal after years of stalled fund-raising and delayed plans, organizers of an effort to restore and reopen the former Roxian Theatre in McKees Rocks insist the show will go on.

“The largest thing was really the economy impacting us,” Taris Vrcek, executive director of the McKees Rocks Community Development Corp., said of the effort that has been under way since 2004.

The nonprofit wants to turn the 85-year-old Roxian on Chartiers Avenue into a 1,500-seat venue for concerts, plays and other shows, and possibly rent it for community use, Vrcek said. He added that restoring the theater could play a key role in revitalizing the borough's business district.

“That's the most important thing — bringing businesses to the community,” McKees Rocks mayor Jack Muhr said.

Some local business owners, however, expressed doubt the proposed project will become reality.

Not only is the Roxian an eyesore on a street overrun with vacant storefronts, there doesn't seem to be any progress on the building, said Dwayne Grimes of Grimes Interiors, a furniture repair and retailer on Chartiers Avenue.

“The grant money that's come in for it is not productive,” he said.

Vrcek said grant money and private donations have been harder to come by given the area's economy.

The nonprofit spent $750,000 in grants from the state and Allegheny County for the building's purchase, legal fees, architectural and engineering services, some demolition and the installation of two elevator shafts. A $100,000 grant from the state Department of Community and Economic Development will pay for façade work to be performed this spring, Vrcek said.

The total estimated price of the theater renovation project, including purchase, has risen from about $1 million in 2007 to $6.85 million today.

Built in 1928, the Roxian opened as a vaudeville playhouse, becoming a movie theater a few years later. The theater closed in 1979 but from 1980 to 2003 The Emerald Room banquet hall operated there.

In 2007, Tony Chammas, a partner in Trinity Commercial Development in Emsworth, which redeveloped the McKees Rocks Shopping Plaza on Chartiers Avenue, bought the theater out of foreclosure. He expected to be an interim owner while the community group raised money to buy and restore the theater. When that didn't happen by 2009, he sold the building to Penn Interiors.

The community organization planned to partner with Penn Interiors to complete renovation. Lack of funding and progress resulted in Penn selling the Roxian to the nonprofit for $300,000 in 2011.

Professional cost estimates submitted two months ago projected about $6 million more is needed to complete interior renovations, including heating, ventilation and air conditioning, restroom additions, electrical work, sound, lighting, walls, carpeting and seating, Vrcek said.

The price anticipates restoring the building in a historically accurate manner and meeting building codes, he said.

The McKees Rocks CDC is now working with Cleveland-based Westlake Reed Leskosky, which specializes in restoring historic buildings, and the League of Historic American Theaters in Bel Air, Md.

The community group plans to actively pursue public-private partnerships to raise the $6 million this year so that construction can start in January for a fall 2014 opening, Vrcek said. Ross-based Drusky Entertainment, the largest private promoter in the Pittsburgh area, has committed to bringing 100 shows annually to the Roxian, he said.

Drusky's commitment leaves Vrcek confident the group can attract donations because it demonstrates that the theater can be self-sustaining.

CDC is updating a 2006 market study that envisioned the theater playing a major role in revitalizing Chartiers Avenue. The corporation is also completing a Main Street plan that will serve as a blueprint for transforming the downtown business district, Vrcek said. He said the Roxian, the nearby Father Ryan Arts Center and other entertainment venues will anchor the plans.

Nearly 20,000 vehicles a day travel Chartiers Avenue, part of state Route 51, through the heart of the business district, Vrcek said.

Tory N. Parrish is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or

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