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Sewickley movie theater project moves forward; mid-January opening expected

| Thursday, July 14, 2016, 1:57 p.m.
Construction continues at the site of the Tull Family Theater along Walnut Street in Sewickley on Thursday, July 7, 2016.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Construction continues at the site of the Tull Family Theater along Walnut Street in Sewickley on Thursday, July 7, 2016.
Michael Dodd of Carnegie-based Kusler Masonry works on a wall at the site of what will be the Tull Family Theater on Walnut Street in Sewickley on Thursday, July 7, 2016. The theater is expected to be completed in January.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Michael Dodd of Carnegie-based Kusler Masonry works on a wall at the site of what will be the Tull Family Theater on Walnut Street in Sewickley on Thursday, July 7, 2016. The theater is expected to be completed in January.
Nate Walker of Carnegie-based Kusler Masonry cuts into a concrete block for a wall at the site of what will be the Tull Family Theater on Walnut Street in Sewickley on Thursday, July 7, 2016. The theater is expected to be completed in January.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Nate Walker of Carnegie-based Kusler Masonry cuts into a concrete block for a wall at the site of what will be the Tull Family Theater on Walnut Street in Sewickley on Thursday, July 7, 2016. The theater is expected to be completed in January.
David McWilliams (front) and Michael Dodd , both of Carnegie-based Kusler Masonry, work on a wall at the site of what will be the Tull Family Theater on Walnut Street in Sewickley on Thursday, July 7, 2016. The theater is expected to be completed in January.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
David McWilliams (front) and Michael Dodd , both of Carnegie-based Kusler Masonry, work on a wall at the site of what will be the Tull Family Theater on Walnut Street in Sewickley on Thursday, July 7, 2016. The theater is expected to be completed in January.

At least six months from now, Carolina Pais-Barreto Beyers envisions a current construction site to be an entertainment destination for the Sewickley area.

But before the two-screen Tull Family Theater begins playing films to the public near the corner of Walnut and Thorn streets in Sewickley, Pais-Barreto Beyers — the executive director of the Village Theater Co. — and other members of the nonprofit group watch as a blueprint becomes reality.

“This is a building we're building for generations to come,” Pais-Barreto Beyers said last week during a tour of the construction site.

The nonprofit group is targeting a mid-January opening of the theater. Passersby should expect to see exterior walls going up “very soon,” she said.

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

Thomas Tull is a partial Pittsburgh Steelers owner and founder of Legendary Pictures, which produced “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Jurassic World.”

Under the name Three Rivers Trust, the Tulls in November purchased a century-old stone Edgeworth home and property — known as “Muottas” — for $5.5 million. The family also is planning a farm for the property, which spans Edgeworth, Leet and Leetsdale.

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 last month.

That space will serve as a multipurpose room, fit for small-scale live performances, speaking engagements or private rentals for birthdays or weddings, Pais-Barreto Beyers said.

“We received an inquiry for a rental already,” she said. “I was very happy to hear that.”

Pais-Barreto Beyers said theater leaders continue working to secure additional sponsorships, including for naming rights of the two movie screens: one which is expected to seat between 90 and 100 people and the other ranging from 150 to 160 seats.

As construction moves forward, Pais-Barreto Beyers said many people have inquired about the seating numbers, which she said have not been finalized “because we're still making minor modifications.”

The theaters will be a mix of sloped seating and stadium seating, volunteer Janis Pereira said.

Board members celebrated a groundbreaking ceremony in June 2015.

But setbacks relating to the ground delayed construction, Pais-Barreto Beyers said, calling the property a “very challenging piece of land.”

She said “soil-related challenges prevented us from really starting to excavate. Every time we wanted to start to excavate, something else came up.”

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.

Leaders first announced plans late in 2011 to bring a movie theater back to Sewickley after a nearly 30-year hiatus. Since then, the group has raised more than $2 million.

Pais-Barreto Beyers said the organization plans to work with schools and other groups as it encourages educational programming and entertaining content.

“This was a grassroots effort,” she said. “This started in the hearts of community leaders and has evolved tremendously.”

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

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