Cassidy vows to reopen Coyle
By Chris Buckley
Published: Monday, July 29, 2013, 12:46 a.m.
By the time the Mon Valley Cultural Trust hired Barry Cassidy in February to take over the Coyle Theater restoration effort, the project had lost its grant funding and the century-old structure had a leaky roof.
It was the kind of project tailor-made for Cassidy, who has made a name for himself reviving and completing projects that had been written off.
“I take on projects that no one else can do – in bad neighborhoods, projects that have lost their funding – which is why I got matched up with this project,” Cassidy said.
The Coyle is a landmark many in the Mon Valley would like to see reopen. But few believe in the project, Cassidy acknowledged.
The cultural trust was formed more than a decade ago with the goal of revitalizing the Coyle, which was open from 1891 to 1999.
The project was well-received, as many longed to return to the theater where they spent many youthful hours.
But like the ship in one of the last movies screened there, “Titanic,” the Coyle – and the project to preserve it – has taken on water, especially in recent years.
The trust board has been a revolving door of membership.
The project came undone by two developments in the past year – failure to appear before the Local Share Account Review Committee in January and failure at the end of 2012 to match a $500,000 state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant and $175,000 in share account money from previous years.
“I went into this knowing that the project is a good project, and it appears everyone at one time wanted to do this,” Cassidy said. “But the powers that were were unable to do it.”
Cassidy has banked his reputation and financial future on the Coyle project.
He earns just $1 a year to manage the project. More money is possible, but only after construction begins – at which time he will receive a percentage of the construction cost.
“I guarantee it. It's definitely going to open,” Cassidy said. “We're doing the project. I'm not here putting my time and effort in to sit in some theater with a leaky roof.”
Working on a projected $1 million budget, Cassidy vowed that construction will begin in July 2014.
He has already approached Charleroi borough council about his plans. Cassidy envisions creating an arts and entertainment economic development strategy in downtown Charleroi with the Coyle as the centerpiece.
The downtown is in an enterprise zone, making the commercial portion of buildings available for 25 percent tax credits.
Additional state and federal tax credits for the historic restoration of the buildings listed on the National Registry Of Historic Sites and Structures could net up to 65 percent in tax credits.
Council is expected to act on that designation by September.
If approved, the borough would be the conduit for a $500,000 state grant to cover renovations. He is also banking on $500,000 in Local Share Account money, despite the cultural trust's shaky history with funding programs related to gaming at The Meadows Racetrack & Casino in North Strabane Township.
“I believe $1 million will get me very close to getting that theater in working order,” Cassidy said.
He used a similar strategy in Phoenixville, Pa., and South Street section of Philadelphia, revitalizing marketplaces in each community.
For that work, Cassidy was named a Keystone Laureate in the Inspiration Category as an Agent of Change and was inducted to the Keystone Society for Tourism.
Cassidy suggests he can open the Coyle because previous cost estimates were bloated.
For example, Cassidy contends he can replace the 600 seats for $180,000, not $600,000, as listed in previous estimates.
“In 15 years of doing this project, they don't have working drawings,” Cassidy said of the former planners.
Cassidy is working on architectural drawings. He also plans to raise money locally and recruit volunteers to do some of the work. One previous estimate ticketed clean-up of the theater at $38,000. Cassidy claims he can recruit volunteers to do that work.
Cassidy is not new to Charleroi. He worked in the former state unemployment office in the Magic City – taking that job in 1983 after he was laid off from his position as director of the Washington-Greene County Weatherization Project, which had lost its funding.
Cassidy is originally from Canonsburg, but was raised in New Jersey.
He made a career managing Main Street programs in Pennsylvania from 1985 to 2011 in Lock Haven, Dubois, Downingtown, South Street in Philadelphia and Phoenixville.
He established his own firm in 2011.
He co-founded the Pennsylvania Downtown Center in Downingtown. It provides technical assistance for downtown programs.
At a conference in December, he met Suzanne Morgan, a brownfields and municipal planning manager for the Washington County Redevelopment Authority.
“I asked her, ‘How's the Coyle Theater project going?' and she put her head down and said, ‘Not well,'” Cassidy recalled.
After that meeting, Morgan re-introduced Cassidy to Charleroi Borough Manager Donn Henderson. The two knew each other from the days Henderson served as Charleroi's Main Street Manager.
Henderson introduced Cassidy to Charleroi Mayor Nancy Ellis, a longtime trust member.
Like the project, the trust board has reinvented itself in recent months.
Board members Jacque Dwyer, Ann Marie Ellis, Elizabeth Docheniez, Eli Polovina and Faith Bjalobok resigned.
Robert Lisovich, Kate Pireaux, Gary Hoover and Adele Pireaux took their place.
Cassidy said he is still seeking trust board member. He also wants volunteers for an operations committee to oversee everything from programming to refreshments to utility contracts.
“Once we open, we have to have an operating plan,” Cassidy said. “We have to know what we are going to do before we open this thing.”
He hopes to bring more community-oriented programs to the theater.
“I'm working with some of the people who were critical of the project, and I'm hoping to make this a Charleroi project,” Cassidy said.
Cassidy acknowledges the public had its expectations raised by others leading the Coyle effort, only to see them dashed.
He vows the result will be different with him managing the project.
“I will get the funding, and we will do this project,” Cassidy said. “As long as people of Charleroi want it done, we will do it. It's not that hard when everyone works together.”
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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