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Irwin buys Lamp Theater

| Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 10:48 p.m.

Irwin council agreed Wednesday to purchase the Lamp Theatre from the Westmoreland Cultural Trust for $1.

Along with the purchase agreement, council also authorized a line of credit through S&T Bank of up to $125,000, with a 3.25 percent interest rate, to fund a portion of the theater's renovation costs.

Council voted 6-0 to purchase the theater and open the line of credit. Councilwoman Phyllis Thiem was absent.

The line of credit, coupled with $70,000 raised by the Relight the Lamp committee, which is part of the Irwin Business & Professionals Association, would more than cover the borough's portion of the estimated $650,000 needed to refurbish the theater located on Main Street, according to manager Mary Benko.

The borough and trust's plan to renovate the theater called for Irwin to contribute $150,000, while the state and Westmoreland County Department of Community and Economic Development plan to contribute the remaining $500,000 for the project, Benko said.

Mike Langer, president of the Westmoreland Cultural Trust, said transferring the property to the borough might be the best move for the Lamp.

“From a tactical perspective, the best chance of getting the Lamp open and re-energizing the project was to transfer ownership to the borough,” Langer said. “We thought it would enhance the probability of the project being successful.”

The $650,000 estimate was prepared by North Huntingdon-based Axis Architecture and several independent contractors in 2011, Langer said.

Irwin-based Chapman-Koury Real Estate Services purchased the theater in 2004, from George and Jean Rebich, who closed its doors after they retired. Chapman-Koury donated the Lamp Theatre to the trust in 2006, Langer said.

Langer said transferring the property to the borough was not a substantial financial loss to the trust.

“We lost a small amount with miscellaneous costs, like insurance, utilities and some personnel,” Langer said. “But in terms of the building, we put in about $400,000 in work, which was all paid by grants.”

Langer said the trust completed work on the theater's plumbing, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, system and roof in early 2009, prior to the Irwin Hotel fire. The fire caused some damage to the theater's roof, which was covered by insurance.

The borough's contribution to the renovation will be used to purchase materials, and officials hope to use the borough's public works department and volunteer labor, Benko said.

“We're at a point where we just want to get the building done,” Benko said. “We plan to reach out to everybody who can help us.”

Benko said council plans to use the theater for live performances, along with some screenings of independent and classic films, and community events.

Last year, the theater renovations stalled after the Westmoreland Cultural Trust reported project bids came in $300,000 higher than expected, according to council president John Cassandro.

“This is a community development project, and we didn't want to see this go away, because we don't need another vacant lot in the borough,” Cassandro said. “And in the Norwin area, where can you go to see a live show, or even a movie?

“It's a big area, and it's a shame to not have any kind of entertainment like this at all.”

Cassandro said he is confident the borough will be able to get bids to stay within the project's $650,000 budget.

Council plans to conduct fundraising efforts, use the public works department to perform in-kind labor, and seek volunteer laborers to help offset the costs of renovations, and no longer has an agreement with the Westmoreland Cultural Trust to operate the theater, Cassandro said.

“If we continue to operate the theater, fundraising efforts are going to be an ongoing thing, because theaters aren't really profitable,” Cassandro said. “We may enter into an agreement with someone else to operate the theater, but we haven't discussed those details yet.”

Ownership was essential for officials to feel comfortable contributing $150,000 toward the building's rehabilitation, Cassandro said.

“Giving that money without any kind of asset to the borough would not have been a good thing for us to do,” he said. “It'd be like we were just giving the building away to the cultural trust.”

Cassandro said the borough's engineer, Lucien Bove, is evaluating the theatre, and officials plan to begin working on the building this summer, starting with the building's façade.

Officials have not set a timetable, though Cassandro said he hopes the project will move ahead quickly.

Kathleen Heuer, a member of the Relight the Lamp committee, said the group is excited to see the borough purchase the theater and begin planning its renovation.

“We're grateful for their dedication to the project,” Heuer said. “This is important for the area, especially downtown Irwin, especially since the Lamp is the only theater for miles.

“There's a real need for it, and we're thrilled to see it moving forward.”

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

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