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Sewickley

Sewickley theater could open by end of January

| Monday, Dec. 19, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Workers from Kentucky-based Installation Source Inc. place armrests for seats inside the Tull Family Theater in Sewickley on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. The theater is scheduled to open Feb. 17.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Workers from Kentucky-based Installation Source Inc. place armrests for seats inside the Tull Family Theater in Sewickley on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016. The theater is scheduled to open Feb. 17.

If all goes as planned over the next few weeks, moviegoers will begin to have a local option for the big screen beginning next month.

Leaders of the Tull Family Theater are targeting a late January opening of the two-screen nonprofit movie theater on Walnut Street.

“It's a very tight deadline,” said Carolina Beyers, the executive director of Village Theater Co., which is the organization building the theater. “With new construction, new equipment and installation, there is a possibility the date could change.”

When the facility opens, it will boast two screening rooms — a 169-seat screening room and the 77-seat Huntington Bank Room, Beyers said, adding that the latter of the two could be ideal for film festivals.

She said the smaller room has a “more intimate feel to it.”

Screening rooms will provide accessibility needs, including handicap and companion seating and audio equipment.

“Accessibility is very important for us,” Beyers said. “Providing a great experience to all is very important to us.”

Previously named the Vanguard Theater, the $4 million project was named for Thomas and Alba Tull, who sponsored the naming rights with a $500,000 donation the group announced in March.

Along with two movie screens, the theater will boast a gathering space known as the Esmark and Bouchard Family Community Room, sponsored by Esmark CEO Jim Bouchard, who gave a $150,000 donation, the nonprofit group announced in June.

That space will serve as a multipurpose room and host events such as small-scale live performances, speaking engagements or private rentals for birthdays or weddings, Beyers said.

As opening day nears, Beyers said fundraising continues.

“We're not done fundraising,” she said. “It is a nonprofit enterprise.

“Earned revenue is part of our model, but as a nonprofit, we continue needing the support of the region.”

While corporate support and community donations have helped, additional money was needed as opening day nears, Beyers said.

“In order to complete construction and operations, we had to secure a loan,” she said. “But the loan is backed by donors. The building is not collateralized.”

The theater is slated to offer first-run films in addition to its outreach efforts, Beyers said. Oscar-nominated films are planned as part of the theater's opening.

Additional programing will be planned and announced as leaders move forward, Beyers said.

“The sky is the limit when it comes to programming,” she said. “But it will be in stages. When we open our doors in a few weeks, the focus is … providing an outstanding … cinema going experience. After that, the benefits will keep unfolding.”

Leaders first announced plans late in 2011 to bring a movie theater back to Sewickley after a more than 30-year hiatus. Board members celebrated a groundbreaking ceremony in June 2015.

Setbacks related to soil forced construction delays.

An original plan for the theater called for it to be built flush up against the Walnut Street sidewalk, but stability issues with Hoey's Run, which flows beneath the property, forced the changes in 2014.

The stream runs near the front of the property along Walnut Street. It begins near War Memorial Park and continues to the Ohio River, weaving — mostly underground — through Sewickley.

In a statement, nonprofit board President Brian Duggan said it is rewarding “to see The Tull Family Theater on the verge of its launch as a regional cultural asset. What started as a grassroots idea five years ago is ready to break onto the arts scene, drawing people of different backgrounds together for culture and entertainment.”

“We're heartened that so many people have stepped forward with us to support this vision. The theater will fulfill a cultural void in cinematic arts for communities northwest of Pittsburgh. And we couldn't be more pleased to see the limitless possibilities it will bring to the region.”

Bobby Cherry is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rcherry@tribweb.com.

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