Curtain might fall on Coyle project in Charleroi
Fifteen years after its last show – followed by futile efforts to reopen the iconic picture show – the curtain may be coming down for good on the historic-but-dilapidated Coyle Theater.
But in its place a state-of-the-art office complex might be built by one of Charleroi's oldest companies, Model Cleaners.
Mayor John Mollenauer said the borough might use eminent domain to take over the theater, which he says is in ever-worsening condition. The Coyle is expected to be discussed at borough council's Thursday meeting.
At the meeting, Mollenauer plans to offer his analysis of failed efforts to restore and reopen the Coyle.
“Putting it bluntly, especially to current Mid Mon Valley Cultural Trust board members, you're kicking a dead horse,” Mollenauer plans to say in a statement he has titled “The Coyle Perspective.”
While Mollenauer contends local movie fans fondly remember the old theaters that once graced downtown Charleroi, “Sometimes you just have to let go and keep our special memories.”
“Efforts to renovate the Coyle over a 15-year period have been regrettably unsuccessful – this in spite of serious attempts by some dedicated, well-meaning board members,” Mollenauer said. “It has a history of poor planning, negligence, infighting and board resignations, lawsuits and potential funding that has been squandered.”
At one point, a former version of the trust had significant grant money for the project. But it failed to match $175,000 in Local Share Account grant money by a Dec. 31, 2012, deadline and state grant funds totaling $250,000 by a spring 2013 deadline.
Local share money is generated through gaming at the Meadows Racetrack & Casino in North Strabane and is distributed by Washington County.
Mollenauer suggested that experts who have worked on Coyle efforts have “envisioned a grand renovation without realistic financial controls or a long-range sustainability plan.”
“Recent exterior painting and cosmetics give a false impression of progress,” Mollenauer plans to state.
“The structure is in deplorable condition and has remained a safety hazard in this neighborhood.”
Located in the 300 block of McKean Avenue, it was built in 1895 and closed in 1999.
In 2000, the Mon Valley Cultural Trust was incorporated. It owns the theater and two accompanying buildings. But the trust's acting secretary, Nikki Sheppick, told council in June that the organization had little in the way of financial resources.
The latest incarnation of the trust board is planning a fundraiser –“Flapper Fete” – Oct. 17 in the Willow Room on Route 51 in Rostraver Township. Tickets are $50.
The board has been through a revolving door of membership, especially in recent years. Current Chairwoman Melanie Patterson is the third person to hold that title in the past 14 months.
According to borough and court records obtained by The Valley Independent, the trust has been cited numerous times for problems ranging from the condition of sidewalks in front of the structure to the condition of the theater building.
On July 18, 2006, the borough code enforcement office cited the trust after it labeled the Coyle an unsafe structure. Notes on that citation indicate that then-trust Chairwoman Nancy Ellis said at a hearing, “they intend to renovate.”
This summer, the trust asked the borough to take over “site control” of the theater.
Charleroi Councilman Larry Celaschi Jr. said trust leadership was to get back to borough leaders after the initial meeting, but never did.
Mollenauer said he interpreted the trust's meaning of “site control” as the borough providing relief from mounting stormwater and wastewater separation fees and fines related to the declining condition of the building and grounds.
Last month, Patterson said the first step for the trust is to get the theater roof fixed. She said a “realistic” goal is for the roof repairs to be done in the spring.
While the trust is still obtaining estimates, Patterson said it will likely cost $50,000 to $90,000 to repair the roof.
Asked about borough concerns about the Coyle building, Patterson said the trust has not been notified of any concerns.
Told of the past citations over the building's condition, Patterson replied, “If that were true, then why would various governmental levels approve funding? The New MMVCT has not been notified about anything currently, and of course, we would have to confer with our attorneys about anything further.”
Patterson did not respond to email and telephone message requests for reaction to the Model Cleaners plan for the site.
On Sept. 30, John LaCarte, Model Cleaners president, wrote a letter to Mollenauer expressing his company's interest in developing a corporate headquarters in the borough.
Model Cleaners has called Charleroi home since its formation in 1930. It has expanded to 14 locations with a workforce of more than 300 people, with recent development projects bringing hundreds of additional jobs in the region, according to LaCarte's letter.
“Our continued growth has created the need for us to evaluate potential locations to construct a new office building for our administrative, sales and executive staff,” LaCarte wrote.
“I am aware of the current economic development studies that have been conducted within the borough and observed the inability of other organizations such as the Mid Mon Valley Cultural Trust to execute on plans despite many years of effort.”
LaCarte wrote that the plan he envisions for the Coyle property “has the potential to create an immediate positive and mutually beneficial economic impact” for both Model Cleaners and Charleroi.
Mollenauer said the Model plan would provide “an economic boost” for the borough.
“This is a viable economic opportunity that sits on the steps of Charleroi,” Celaschi said.
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or [email protected].