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Irwin council considers buying Lamp Theatre

| Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, 11:13 a.m.

Irwin council is considering purchasing the Lamp Theatre.

Council President John Cassandro said council is exploring the possibility of purchasing the 72-year-old structure, making the borough the sole owner of the theater.

“It's an option we're exploring, and in order to do that, we have to determine the value of the building,” Cassandro said. “This has a lot to do with getting the funding in place for this, and how quickly we have to move.”

Last week, Irwin council gave manager Mary Benko permission to spend no more than $1,000 to hire an appraiser to determine the market value of the Lamp Theatre.

According to the Westmoreland County Property Assessment website, the Lamp Theatre has an assessed value of $35,140. Currently, the Westmoreland Cultural Trust, a non-profit organization which owns the Lamp, pays no taxes on the theater.

In 2011, borough and trust officials estimated it would cost about $650,000 to get the theater running again, a cost that would be split between the state, county and Irwin Borough.

According to the estimate, the county and state each would contribute about $250,000 to the project to repair the structure, while the borough could contribute about $150,000 for interior work.

Relight the Lamp, which is a committee of the Irwin Business & Professionals Association, conducted fundraising to help offset the borough's contribution. The group helped raise approximately $70,000 so far, according to Relight the Lamp member Kathleen Heuer.

Heuer said the organization is excited about the possibility of borough ownership. The theater will help boost the local economy, she added.

“A facility like this will build on the improvements Irwin has made along Main Street,” Heuer said. “It will infuse the Norwin area not only with cash spent here, but with movies, music and the arts, which improve everyone's quality of life.”

Under the current plan, once the theater is renovated, the Westmoreland Cultural Trust would own and operate the Lamp.

“The reason I'd like to see borough ownership is because spending all that money, then just giving it away, does not sit well with me,” Cassandro said. “If we're going to spend $150,000, I'd like to see us at least own something, and make it a borough asset.”

With a lack of movement, Cassandro said he thinks the county and state could eventually withdraw their contributions toward the project.

“This has a lot to do with whether we can get the state and county, and how quickly we'll have to move to get there,” Cassandro said. “The old plan isn't going to get us there in time to use that money.”

“We'd like to see construction get going as fast as possible.”

If the borough were to move ahead with purchasing the theater, Cassandro said borough officials would continue working with Relight the Lamp.

Last July, Westmoreland Cultural Trust officials received bids from only two contractors to rehabilitate the theater, which came in higher than expected, according to Michael Langer, trust president.

Since then, Langer has declined to discuss the project further, claiming there has been no concrete decision made on the organization's next steps with the Lamp Theatre. He did not return calls seeking comment.

Benko said borough officials have not discussed who would run the theatre or future involvement with the Westmoreland Cultural Trust.

“We're not at that point yet, since this is so preliminary,” Benko said. “We can't do anything without getting this appraisal done.

“Even after it's done, who knows? It could go nowhere.”

Benko planned to get bids from three appraisal firms, and expects to hire a firm this week. The appraisal could happen as soon as next week, she added.

Cassandro expects council to discuss the Lamp Theatre and results of the appraisal during the Feb. 7 workshop meeting.

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626, or bpedersen@tribweb.com.

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