Coyle Theater restoration effort has gone awry
Published: Wednesday, September 26, 2012, 12:54 a.m.
Updated: Tuesday, January 8, 2013
More than a decade ago, a group known as the Mid-Mon Valley Cultural Trust was formed with the objective of reviving the once-popular Coyle Theater in Charleroi.
The objective was to repair, restore and reopen the historic landmark that dates back to 1891.
While the effort was noble and well-intentioned, it has never come close to succeeding.
Because of myopic vision, uninspired leadership, petty politics and an unwillingness to embrace new people and ideas, hope for the Coyle is fading fast.
Over the years, the Cultural Trust has raised just enough money to insure the building and repair the roof.
It has failed to rally the commnity, generate the necessary $2.5 million to fulfill the dream or even draw up a viable business plan.
The Cultural Trust has essentially become dysfunctional. Sadly, the “trust” in its name is gone.
A month ago, the bank account had dwindled to $100.50. The next insurance installment is coming due and the borough wants the sidewalk fixed in front of the theater and two adjoining buildings that the group owns along McKean Avenue.
As of two weeks ago, supposedly only three members comprised the board, not enough to convene a legal quorum to conduct business.
One was an original board member, Charleroi Mayor Nancy Ellis. Although her heart has always been in the project, she has been unable to grow interest and create the momentum necessary for such a challenging undertaking.
Another was Mark Smith, an insurance salesman and musician, who became a board member only several months ago.
He brought enthusiasm and represented badly-needed “new blood” eager to get things moving again.
Discouraged and frustrated, he resigned last week.
He said Ellis and state Rep. Pete Daley, D-California, failed to return repeated calls and e-mails as he and others sought information and tried to clear up confusion over the Cultural Trust's articles of incorporation.
Facing a fast-approaching deadline to raise matching money for a $250,000 state grant and to qualify for a $179,000 local grant, an ad hoc support group tried to reorganize and re-energize the Cultural Trust.
A “Jail Bail” in front of the Coyle and “Friends of the Coyle” funfest at Anthony's on the Mon, a Speers restaurant, netted about $4,000.
The Coyle Support Committee began weekly meetings, with John Mollenauer serving as facilitator. He's the former Charleroi Chamber of Commerce executive director and a respected civic leader.
Even if restoring the Coyle is feasible, he cautioned, “A golden monument does no good unless it's operational. The sustainability factor is critical, such as salaries for staff, performance costs, marketing, insurance, maintenance, utilities, etc.,” issues also left unaddressed.
Like Smith and several others, Mollenauer, too, has stepped back, frustrated by squabbling and poor business acumen.
I attended both of the support group's recent fund-raising events, took a “flashlight tour” of the now musty-smelling Coyle, whose electricity was turned off long ago, and sat in on a support group meeting in order to gain understanding and perspective for today's column.
I reached two primary conclusions for people who still think the Coyle can make a comeback and those who don't, skeptics who grouse, with increasing justification, “I'll believe it when I see it.”
First, there is hope, or there was hope.
The support group meetings attracted and recommended “shakers-and-movers,” supporters willing to help, people with the expertise, contacts and background who, working cooperatively, relentlessly and aggressively, faced good odds of success..
A few familiar names brought up included Nikki Sheppick, Susan Smith Sparks, the Rev. Ken Thompson, Jim Protin, Christine Cardinale, Joe Carrone, Chris Sepesy, Robert Rossi, Don Ruschak, Larry Cowell, Leland Calistri, Clara Pascoe, Armand Ferrrari and Brad Ferko.
That changed last week.
Ellis and a member said to have “come out of the woodwork” ignored those supporters and instead appointed friends and relatives said to be in her corner, including ones associated with California's Cal-Ed Federal Credit Union. Ellis is a member of the FCU's Supervisory Committee.
Second, it's now or never.
That has not changed.
With increasingly scarce public funds and grants available, the Cultural Trust can't afford to pass up the opportunity to bring nearly $400,000 of outside money to the project.
But the mistrust, personal differences and unpleasant experiences of the past have not been set aside for the greater good and common objective: Save the Coyle.
To his credit, Smith, who admits to having “stirred the soup,” created a “Friends of the Coyle” site on Facebook.
It has more than 1,400 followers who want to help or donate, although many of them have moved out of the area.
Charleroi and the Mid-Mon Valley couldn't have asked for a better second chance.
That chance has been squandered.
You may not agree.
Prove me wrong. Please.
Thought du jour- “Titanic” was one of the last movies shown at the Coyle. Was it an omen?
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