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Mon Valley Cultural Trust out to unload Coyle project

| Friday, June 13, 2014, 12:56 a.m.

Fifteen years after the Coyle Theater closed its doors – and following a revolving door of leadership in the trust formed to revive the historic cinema – the borough might be asked to take it over.

Charleroi Council was prepared Thursday night to discuss “a proposal related to the development of the Coyle Project site,” as requested in a letter from Melanie Patterson, chairman of the Mid Mon Valley Cultural Trust.

However, Patterson did not attend council's meeting Thursday and sent the trust's acting secretary, Nikki Sheppick, to address the board.

Sheppick requested a future meeting between council and the trust.

Council President Paul Pivovarnik said he expected the matter would be discussed Thursday, based on the tone of a May 29 letter from the trust.

Borough Manager Donn Henderson warned that a quorum could not be present at such a meeting if borough officials discussed matters the full board might be required to vote on in the future.

Otherwise, such a meeting would have to be advertised as a public session, Henderson said.

Sheppick made clear the intent of a meeting.

“From our discussions at the present time, we believe the best option would be for the borough to have site control,” she said of the Coyle.

Asked after the meeting to define “site control,” Sheppick said the trust wants the borough to take ownership of the Coyle. While Sheppick said the trust members would help maintain the building, the organization's lone objective – reopening the Valley's last theater – would be passed on to the borough.

Councilman Ed Bryner said borough leaders would have to investigate the condition of the roof on the 119-year-old theater.

The Mon Valley Cultural Trust was incorporated in 2000.

It owns the theater and two accompanying buildings, but little else, as noted by Councilman Larry Celaschi Jr. Thursday.

Pressed by Celaschi, Sheppick, who joined the Trust in January, admitted that despite years of fundraising efforts by former trust boards, the nonprofit organization has $100 to $500 total in its accounts.

“You would think in 15 years, there would be some money in that trust, but there is no money,” Celaschi said.

“I'm a new member,” Sheppick said. “I can't answer to the past.”

At one point, the trust had significant grant money for the project. But it failed to match $175,000 in Local Share Account grant money by a Dec. 31, 2012, deadline and state grant money totaling $250,000 by a spring 2013 deadline.

Local Share Account money is generated through gaming at the Meadows Racetrack & Casino in North Strabane Township.

Washington County awards the grants.

This year, the trust did not seek a grant from the Local Share Account committee, which makes recommendations to the county commissioners.

Mayor John Mollenauer said the trust failed because it lacked leadership.

“Public sentiment on this project is very negative,” Mollenauer said.

“People believe it's never going to fly.

“I'm disappointed in what has happened over the last 15 years.”

Pivovarnik said councils over the years have backed the Coyle project, aiding in grant applications and seeking county, state and federal support.

He, too, criticized a lack of leadership from the trust board over the years.

“We're seeking a new direction,” said Sheppick, who has been a member of the Friends of the Coyle, a volunteer organization that sought money for the project.

“Unfortunately, the cultural trust has baggage, so we need to move on.”