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Irwin council buys Lamp Theatre, plans to renovate the building

| Monday, March 25, 2013, 7:25 a.m.
Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
The Lamp Theatre, built in 1937 in the heart of the Irwin's business district, sits vacant on Thursday, March 21, 2013.

Irwin council bought the long-vacant Lamp Theatre and plans to renovate the historic building as a venue for independent films, classic movies and performances.

Council paid $1 last week to buy the 1937 theater in the heart of the borough's business district from the Westmoreland Cultural Trust.

“It is in the best interest of the borough of Irwin to enter into the standard agreement for the sale of real estate with the Westmoreland Cultural Trust for the purchase of the Lamp Theatre,” states the resolution authorizing the sale.

Council voted unanimously to buy the building, which has been vacant along Main Street since 2004.

Councilwoman Phyllis Thiem was absent.

“It's a community development project,” council President John Cassandro said. “It's an important building to Irwin,” he said, noting its age and its importance in bringing business into the community.

“We don't need another vacant lot in Irwin,” he said.

Council unanimously agreed to open a line of credit with S&T Bank for up to $125,000. That money could combine with about $70,000 raised by the community group Relight the Lamp to buy building materials.

That in-house money is to be used for materials and volunteer labor, borough manager Mary Benko said.

“We are going to be going to everybody that will be willing to help us — either material, time, manpower, whatever anybody can offer us in help,” Cassandro said. “Calling all builders, calling all contractors — anybody that wants to see this Lamp opened up.”

In addition, officials hope to secure $500,000 in state and Westmoreland County funds to pay for contracted renovation work, Benko said.

The first step will be to acquire that money, Cassandro said. Officials also plan to raise funds for the theater.

“I assume then we would probably start on the façade and begin working on that,” Cassandro said.

Work will begin as soon as possible, he said. No timeline has been set.

It's not yet decided whether the borough or some organization will manage the theater, Cassandro said.

The Westmoreland Cultural Trust had hoped to refurbish and open the theater by the end of 2012, but bids were $300,000 to $400,000 higher than expected, stalling the project.

The trust was given the property at no cost several years ago by the owner, President Mike Langer said.

The trust does not intend to leave the project entirely, Langer said.

“(The) trust will offer all help necessary for the successful operation of the theater once it's up and running,” he said.

Selling the theater to Irwin is “certainly the best way to go about it to best ensure the successful completion of the project,” Langer said.

“I think for the borough itself, the completion of the theater will be a fantastic boost to their local economy. It will be consistent with the strategic vision that they had laid out for the revitalization of Irwin a few years ago,” Langer said. “I'm excited for the borough of Irwin with this project.”

Kathleen Heuer, founding member of Relight the Lamp, said the group will await instructions from council on how to proceed. The group, dedicated to reopening the theater, is a committee of the Irwin Project.

“We are absolutely thrilled, and we're grateful to Irwin council for their attention to and devotion to the Lamp project,” Heuer said. “And we look forward to working with them closely.”

Rossilynne Skena is a staff writer forTrib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6646 or rskena@tribweb.com.

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